ISS astronaut taxi faces ‘MOST DANGEROUS’ test yet on re-entry — SpaceX Dragon

Olive Hawkins
March 8, 2019

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule began its journey back to Earth on Friday (March 8) following a successful undocking from the International Space Station (ISS). If deemed a complete success, the mission would give NASA increased confidence in one of its prime contractors and propel the space agency a step closer to restoring human spaceflight from USA soil.

Falcon 9 launched Saturday before dawn with the Crew Dragon capsule, created to carry up to seven astronauts, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center launch complex 39A. It was carrying about 400 pounds of supplies for the ISS and a space-suited dummy named Ripley, which is "fitted with sensors around the head, neck and spine to record everything an astronaut would experience throughout the mission".

If today's re-entry goes according to plan, an identical Space Crew Dragon capsule will launch an unmanned high-altitude abort test, to test the SuperDracos engines.

As well as having seven seats, the Crew Dragon has a life-support system and a touch-screen console for astronauts to use. The capsule is SpaceX's first that is created to carry humans.

The SpaceX mission is attempting to demonstrate the Elon Musk-owned company's ability to transport astronauts between Earth and the ISS, replacing NASA's space shuttle fleet, which was retired in 2011.

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SpaceX and Boeing, which is building a vehicle called Starliner, have contracts worth up to $2.6 billion and $4.2 billion, respectively. Both SpaceX and Boeing have been hampered with delays - but 2019 could be the year they start flying crew. The data from the demonstration-1 flight is part of the process to secure certification from NASA to fly crew.

By Thursday the space station crew bid farewell to Ripley and closed the hatch ahead of Dragon's Friday morning departure.

The unmanned capsule's voyage marks a key milestone for Elon Musk's space company and NASA's long-delayed goal to resume human spaceflight from US soil later this year.

The successful landing would be a coup for SpaceX and a relief for Musk, who said he wouldn't be able to relax until the spacecraft had landed safely.

The timeline for Boeing's Starliner is not as clear. The first flight without crew is slated for no earlier than April and a crewed launch in late summer.

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