Crew Dragon back on Earth: what does the mission mean for the future?

The successful return marks a new milestone for future, manned space travel.

Last Friday, the spacecraft Crew Dragon splashed safely and well in the Atlantic Ocean. The spacecraft traveled back to Earth from the International Space Station ISS in just six hours. Crew Dragon dangled from a number of parachutes and then blew gently into the ocean. And with its splash in the water, this first unmanned test flight to the ISS can be considered a success.

Spacecraft Crew Dragon dangles from parachutes and lands safely and well in the Atlantic Ocean. Image: NASA Television

Primeurs
During the test flight, the spacecraft also managed to put a number of scoops to its name. The Crew Dragon, for example, is the first commercially built American vessel that was sent from the US to the space station on mission. In addition, the Crew Dragon was also the first commercial vessel to dock at the ISS. And he did this - first of all - completely autonomously. All in all, Crew Dragon has shown to go further than previous space missions to the ISS. And this will have consequences for the future.


Adapters
A new type of adapter was also tested during the Crew Dragon test flight. Crew Dragon made use of these new adapters while mooring at the ISS. These adapters will now also be mounted on NASA's Orion vessel; the spacecraft with which NASA ultimately wants to travel to the moon.

Commercial business
But the most important milestone is that the successful flight means that in the short term, commercial space organizations will also commute to the ISS to drop off and pick up astronauts. For a long time, space was the domain of government-funded space organizations. But that has been changing considerably in recent years. SpaceX shows this nicely with this successful demonstration flight. "The successful return of the Crew Dragon after its first mission to the ISS marks a new milestone in future, manned space travel," said Jim Bridenstine of NASA. "We are now one step closer to launching American astronauts with American rockets from American soil."

In order to properly assess the performance of Crew Dragon, there was also a test dummy named Ripley on board the spacecraft. This lifelike test device measures what astronauts would experience during the flight to the ISS using all kinds of sensors. This data will now be thoroughly studied. And once all the data has been processed, the team will redecorate and prepare the Crew Dragon for its next mission, in which the so-called abort systems are tested. These systems must come into operation if something goes wrong during the launch and ensure that the astronauts can land safely on Earth despite the problems. In addition, the team is already preparing for the real highlight: a manned flight to the ISS. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will travel to the ISS this summer in the Crew Dragon. And if this mission goes well, the spacecraft will be ready to routinely and frequently travel to the ISS with astronauts on board.

Video: SpaceX Crew Dragon Historic Mission from start to finish in 12 minutes (June 2019).