— Astronauts Pack Up SpaceX’s Crew Dragon for Return to Earth
SpaceX’s first Crew Dragon capsule to fly to the International Space Station is all packed up and ready to return to Earth, after astronauts on board the orbiting lab closed the hatch spacecraft’s today (March 7).
The station crew closed the hatch to Crew Dragon at 12:39 p.m. EST (1739 GMT), but not before packing more than 300 lbs. (136 kilograms) of gear aboard to send home — and snapping a few last-minute photos inside the space capsule. The capsule had carried 400 lbs. (181 kg) up to the station when it arrived earlier this month.
The capsule is scheduled to undock tomorrow (March 8) at 2:31 a.m. EST (0731 GMT) in a procedure that you can watch live at Space.com beginning at 2 a.m. EST (0700 GMT), courtesy of NASA TV. The broadcast will resume at 7:30 a.m. (1230 GMT) to cover the capsule’s landing.
Crew Dragon’s safe return to Earth poses perhaps the most substantial challenge of the entire Demo-1 flight, which is designed to prove that the system is safe enough to carry astronauts. If all goes well, the capsule will deploy its parachutes and float to touch down on the Atlantic Ocean near Florida, where a ship will fetch it and return it to land.
The next hurdle in SpaceX’s quest for human spaceflight will be a successful uncrewed abort test, which will test the escape engines that would fire to carry astronauts to safety if anything were to go wrong. That test is currently scheduled for June.
The spacecraft will need to make a safe descent on Friday. The landing technique will be unique to SpaceX, as both Russia’s veteran Soyuz capsule and Boeing’s forthcoming Starliner are designed to land on terra firma rather than at sea.
A final key test on Crew Dragon’s emergency abort system is scheduled for June. And the first crewed mission, which will carry astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, is slated for July, according to NASA’s most recent schedule.
The timeline for Boeing’s Starliner is not as clear. It’s slated to fly its first uncrewed demo mission no earlier than April.
NASA is still concerned about safety with both spacecrafts, according to a recent Reuters report and documents from NASA’s safety advisory panel. Those issues still need to be resolved before NASA will fly its astronauts in SpaceX or Boeing’s spacecrafts.
But Elon Musk’s space exploration company is one step ahead of Boeing, as it will get key data from this demo mission to make final adjustments ahead of its inaugural crewed flight.
Crew Dragon also aced a key NASA review ahead of launch, and the space agency hasn’t reported any issues with the mission thus far.