After a successful first launch to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is now bound to go back to Earth. It is a crucial part of the demo to see if it can safely return home in one piece.

Crew Dragon’s Inaugural Mission

It was in March 2 when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon launched from the Kennedy Space Center atop the Falcon 9 and on March 3, when it finally docked at the ISS. Now, five days after its historic inaugural mission, the Crew Dragon is ready to go home.

Although this is the capsule’s last challenge for this mission, it may also be one of the biggest. As the first crew-capable spacecraft from the United States in eight years, the Crew Dragon needs to show that it is capable of returning to Earth safely.

That is, it has to show that its shape and parachute system can survive the plunge back to Earth while keeping its inner contents safe. This time, it is only carrying cargo, but in the future, it is expected to carry human passengers since it is intended to transport NASA astronauts to the ISS and back to Earth as well.

The undocking is set to happen at 2:31 AM (EST), and the splashdown in the Atlantic ocean is expected at 8:45 (EST).

Ocean Touchdown

It has been decades since humans have returned to Earth by touching down in the ocean. Since the 1980s, all astronauts have returned to Earth by landing on solid ground. However, the Crew Dragon will be splashing down off the coast of Florida, just like the Dragon cargo capsule, which has been delivering cargo to and from the ISS since 2012.

That said, there are slight differences between the Dragon cargo capsule and the Crew Dragon’s shape that makes this return to Earth more unpredictable. While the Dragon capsule is smoother and conical in shape, the Crew Dragon is more asymmetrical because of the emergency abort system embedded on its outer walls.

When it returns, scientists will be able to see what the descent might be like for astronauts when they gather the data from Ripley, the sensor-equipped dummy aboard the Crew Dragon.

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