The SpaceX Crew Dragon made history, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean just east of Florida this morning. Concluding its historic mission, “Demo Flight 1” plashed down in the Atlantic Ocean at 8:45am ET.
Carrying “Ripley”, an anthropomorphic test device in a space suit, which SpaceX officials prefer to call a “smarty” rather than a “dummy”, the Crew Dragon splashed down on-schedule in the Atlantic after what appears to be a flawless launch to and docking with the International Space Station (ISS.) Ripley sat in one of the four seats inside the Crew Dragon. SpaceX has named the mannequin “Ripley” after Sigourney Weaver’s character in the “Alien” films. According to SpaceX, Ripley is fitted with sensors around its head, neck and spine to gather data on the environments astronauts will experience when they ride the Crew Dragon.
With the mission complete, experts will review data captured by Ripley, the launch vehicle, and the ISS to confirm the craft is fit for human space travel. The six-day test flight, also known as DEMO-1, is a crucial step in SpaceX’s plan to provide human spaceflight. Lessons learned from the mission will improve safety when two NASA astronauts ride the Crew Dragon to the ISS as soon as July.
Currently, the only way for humans to travel to the ISS is via Russian spacecraft. Two American astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut are set to join the crew aboard the International Space Station on Thursday, March 14. The trio’s arrival will return the orbiting laboratory’s population to six, including three NASA astronauts. This launch will also mark the fourth Expedition crew with two female astronauts. Since the Space Shuttle’s last mission in 2011, the only way American astronauts could head to space to the ISS is by way of Russia.
SpaceX is one of two providers contracted by NASA to send humans back to space on board their spacecraft, the other being Boeing. Boeing, the largest aerospace company in the world, is planning their unmanned demo flight in their CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in the next few weeks. It will launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket as soon as early April. Like the Crew Dragon, the Starliner can seat a crew of 7, be operated from a central control panel, dock on its own with the ISS, and be reused multiple times. NASA’s contract with SpaceX is $2.4billion while its contract with Boeing is $4.2billion.