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SpaceX Crew Dragon splashes into Atlantic, completing test flight's return leg

By
Brooks Hays
SpaceX's Crew Dragon was craned onto the deck of the company's recovery ship. Photo by NASA TV/SpaceX
SpaceX's Crew Dragon was craned onto the deck of the company's recovery ship. Photo by NASA TV/SpaceX

March 8 (UPI) -- SpaceX's Crew Dragon has been retrieved by the "Go Searcher" recovery ship after splashing into the Atlantic Ocean Friday morning.

All three major phases of the return leg -- the spacecraft's deorbit, parachute deployment and splashdown -- went as planned.

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Last week, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft proved the private space company is capable of safely launching and carrying astronauts from Earth to the International Space Station. Now, SpaceX and Crew Dragon have demonstrated their ability to safely shepherd astronauts back to Earth.

The return leg of the test flight began while most people on the East Coast were still asleep.

The International Space Station confirmed in a tweet the Crew Dragon undocked at 2:32 a.m. EST.

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"Dragon's trunk has been jettisoned and its de-orbit burn is complete," SpaceX reported in a tweet at 8:10 a.m. EST.

The spacecraft deployed its four parachutes at 8:44 a.m. Just a few minutes later, the craft splashed into the Atlantic. At 9:52 a.m. EST, SpaceX confirmed in a tweet Crew Dragon had been successfully craned onto the deck of the recovery ship.

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The Crew Dragon made history last week when SpaceX launched the first spacecraft under NASA's commercial crew program. After being released by the rocket's second stage, the Crew Dragon executed a series of orbital phasing maneuvers, finally rendezvousing with the International Space Station on Sunday morning.

After executing a docking maneuver, scientists unloaded 400 pounds of equipment and supplies. Crew Dragon remained attached to the space station from Sunday, allowing SpaceX engineers more time to test a variety of systems and components.

The inaugural commercial crew test flight, Demo-1 mission, is uncrewed. However, Crew Dragon is carrying one lifeless -- but lifelike -- passenger, a dummy outfitted with a variety of sensors so scientists can measure the forces exerted on the body during the mission. SpaceX engineers dubbed the dummy Ripley, a nod to a character in the 1979 film Alien.

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In addition to bringing Ripley safely back to Earth, Crew Dragon is tasked with returning some 350 pounds of gear and scientific experiments.

If all goes as planned -- as was the case with the first half of the mission -- SpaceX could conduct a crewed test flight as early as April.

NASA selected SpaceX and Boeing to design and build crew-carrying spacecraft to carry astronauts to and from the space station -- replacements for the Space Shuttle, which NASA retired in 2011.

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