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SpaceX crew capsule Dragon heads back to Earth from space station

SpaceX crew capsule Dragon heads back to Earth from space station

It's a wrap: SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule safely landed in the Atlantic Ocean and concluded one of the most important missions to the International Space Station (ISS).

The SpaceX Crew Dragon is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, in which it collaborates with private companies to develop new options for human space travel - and end USA reliance on Russian space vehicles to get astronauts into orbit. Success will also mean that "Earthy", a plush anthropomorphic doll of our planet, will be coming home from the space station.

The Crew Dragon re-entering the atmosphere on March 8.

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.

The Dragon 2 capsule's return to Earth started at 2:30 AM EDT when it undocked from the station.

NASA astronauts have been stuck riding Russian rockets since space shuttles retired eight years ago.

Since then, both companies have faced delays and setbacks.

The undocking, descent from Earth orbit and water-landing are the final stages of the SpaceX Crew Dragon's first test flight.

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Boeing plans to launch its Starliner capsule without a crew as early as next month and with astronauts possibly in August. NASA and SpaceX have not been forthcoming about what those problems were, and continue to refer to them vaguely as "anomalies", even in an October safety advisory panel report submitted to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

On Saturday, March 2, at 2:49 a.m. EST, one of the company's Falcon 9 rockets lit up the pre-dawn sky, lofting a Crew Dragon spacecraft created to carry humans-but carrying only a stuffed globe and a manikin named Ripley outfitted with a space suit and suite of sensors-to the International Space Station (ISS). These adapters will also be used for the Orion spacecraft for NASA's future mission to the Moon.

The last generation of USA spacecraft, the Space shuttles, landed like airplanes, and two of the four original shuttles had catastrophic accidents that killed 14 crew members.

The splashdown was the final test on this mission for Crew Dragon, during a flight test for a capsule that could become the first US craft to carry astronauts into space since the shuttle program was phased out in 2011. The station's crew spent several days monitoring the spacecraft while docked to the station before closing hatches between the station and spacecraft March 7. CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk was nervous but can now breathe a sigh of relief.

Musk and his companies have been under scrutiny lately.

Privately owned SpaceX, also known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp, was founded in 2002 by Musk, who is also a co-founder of electric auto maker Tesla Inc. The Air Force recently announced it was reviewing the certifications it had granted SpaceX that allow to launch national security payloads.

In 2014, NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to develop spacecraft to launch USA astronauts.