The Crew Dragon capsule, built by Hawthorne-based SpaceX in an effort to re-start American astronaut launches, successfully detached from the International Space Station late Thursday evening for the last leg of its historic test mission.
The unmanned capsule, carrying about 400 pounds of supplies and equipment, was launched into space late March 1 aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, and it docked with the International Space Station early Sunday morning.
Nearly five days later, astronauts at the Space Station closed the hatch on the capsule at 9:39 a.m. Thursday, according to NASA. The capsule was scheduled to undock from the station at 11:30 p.m., beginning its relatively short trip back to Earth. The detachment aired on a live online feed right on schedule, and SpaceX Tweeted: “Separation confirmed!”
According to NASA and SpaceX, about five hours after leaving the ISS, Crew Dragon will begin a roughly 15-minute de-orbit burn. The capsule will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean roughly 35 to 40 minutes later, or around 5:45 a.m. California time Friday.
Crew Dragon’s maiden flight into space is a major milestone in American space flight. The United States has not launched astronauts into space since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011. SpaceX and Boeing have both now contracted with NASA to conduct astronaut launches, with Crew Dragon the first capsule actually launched into space on a test mission.
Assuming there are no glitches in the balance of the mission, SpaceX is tentatively expected to launch a pair of astronauts into space aboard Crew Dragon this summer, possibly July. NASA has already chosen astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley for the historic mission.
The only passenger on Crew Dragon during the current mission is a sensor-laden mannequin named Ripley, dubbed in honor of Sigourney Weaver’s character in the “Alien” sci-fi film series.
After last week’s launch of Crew Dragon, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the mission “marks a new chapter in American excellence, getting us closer to once again flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.”
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