SpaceX Crew Dragon success heralds a new era for NASA spaceflight


Crew members of International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 58 have continued to bring the unofficial DM-1 Crew Dragon "mascot" along as they complete station activities.

On Friday the Crew Dragon capsule will detach from the International Space Station (ISS) 400km above Earth and begin a fiery journey back through the atmosphere, ending in a splashdown 450km off the coast of Florida.

The space station's three-member crew greeted the capsule Sunday morning, with USA astronaut Anne McClain and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques entering Crew Dragon's cabin to carry out air quality tests and inspections. She followed up on the interview tweeting images of the Earth toy drinking coffee, helping with drills and gazing out of the ISS Cupola observatory module.

Once aloft, the SpaceX craft traveled to the space station, whizzing around the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour, catching up early the next morning.

Elon Musk, the CEO of U.S. private aerospace manufacturer SpaceX, called Russia's rocket engineering "excellent" and said the country's rocket engines are the best now flying, also suggesting that the reusable version of Russia's Angara rocket would be "great".

NASA has been unable to fly its own astronauts since the final Space Shuttle retired in 2011, after which the space agency turned to the private sector to develop the next generation of human spaceflight hardware.

The spacecraft launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida March 2, docking with the station 27 hours later after a problem-free approach.

But the capsule was also responsible for delivering supplies to the International Space Station. (A test dummy named Ripley was on board.) The nearly-week long test flight culminated when the spacecraft disembarked from the station about 1:15 a.m.

It marks the first time in 50 years that a capsule designed for astronauts returned from space by plopping into the Atlantic. NASA hoped their spacecrafts would start flying in 2017.

Now, SpaceX and Crew Dragon must demonstrate their ability to safely shepherd astronauts back to Earth.

The spacecraft will need to make a safe descent on Friday.

Musk and his companies have been under scrutiny lately.

Musk, also co-founder of electric auto maker Tesla Inc, will be watching closely.

A judge in that case gave Musk until Monday to say why he should not be held in contempt for violating the terms of the settlement.

The live view then switched to color cameras on SpaceX's recovery ship, the Go Searcher, which saw the drogue and main parachutes deploy successfully. And Bloomberg News reported Thursday that Musk's marijuana use also prompted the Pentagon to review his security clearance.