ISS Crew Member Earth Continues Work Aboard the Station

ISS crew member and plush toy Earth continues work aboard the station

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft safely returned to the Earth today, dropping into the Atlantic Ocean following a successful mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

The capsule will prepare itself for landing with a deorbit burn before a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. This part of that program launched the SpaceX Crew Dragon for the first time.

It represents the first private space mission to the ISS, as well as the first time a space vessel capable of carrying people was launched by the USA in eight years. Success will also mean that "Earthy", a plush anthropomorphic doll of our planet, will be coming home from the space station.

Crew Dragon also took a cargo of around 400 pounds into orbit.

Company founder Elon Musk said during a post-launch news conference last Saturday that the capsule's hypersonic entry, along with launch, rendezvous and docking, posed the greatest risks.

SpaceX's recovery ship headed out to pull the Dragon onto its "nest" and bring it back to shore for inspection.

The last generation of USA spacecraft, the Space shuttles, landed like airplanes.

Assuming a detailed post-flight inspection and data analysis confirm the capsule's apparently problem-free performance, NASA will be a major step closer to launching two astronauts aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule this summer, the first flight of a USA crew from American soil since the shuttle made its final flight in 2011.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon is spinning down its orbit after undocking from the International Space Station early Friday. The friction with Earth's atmosphere generates intense heat, and just one little mistake in its design or manufacturing could have spelled disaster.

ISS Crew Member Earth Continues Work Aboard the Station 1
Earth making sure she is on schedule | Image credit NASA Anne McClain

Yet, when the moment arrived, the spacecraft showed no signs of a rickety descent, eventually deploying its quad-parachute system and safely splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean some 280 miles (~450 kilometers) from its original launching spot at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Waiting in the wings is Boeing and its CST-100 Starliner capsule, being prepared for an unpiloted test flight this spring and its initial piloted launch this fall.

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.

SpaceX began development of Dragon capsule five years ago. Following the shuttle program's end, NASA put its faith in the commercial sector, entrusting two companies, SpaceX and Boeing, to build its future space taxis.

On the Crew Dragon, he noted, "the windows will be down near our feet on this vehicle".

NASA has been unable to fly its own astronauts since the final Space Shuttle retired in 2011, after which the space agency turned to the private sector to develop the next generation of human spaceflight hardware.

"I don't think we saw really anything in the mission so far - we've got to do the data reviews - that would preclude us from having a crewed mission later this year", Stich said. "That [shape] could potentially cause a roll instability on reentry", Musk said.

Next up is the first crewed flight for the Crew Dragon.

They will be joined by three more crew members on March 14: NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch, and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin.

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