Champagne corks undocked as SpaceX brings the Crew Dragon back to Earth

ISS crew member and plush toy Earth continues work aboard the station

Earth hitting the treadmill with NASA astronaut Anne Mc Clain | Image credit NASA Anne McClain

A final abort test is scheduled for June and if that goes well NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley could fly on the first crewed flight of Crew Dragon in July, according to NASA's most recent timeline.

It was only about a week ago that SpaceX launched the Crew Dragon, the company's first crew-capable spacecraft, towards the International Space Station.

The space station's three-member crew greeted the capsule last Sunday, 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. The astronauts have been showing the Earth buddy around the space station. Celestial Buddies, a Connecticut-based toy company that makes the toy had received no prior notice of the product's inclusion in the DM-1 mission.

The forces exerted on the capsule as it blazed a trail through the atmosphere at hypersonic speeds had SpaceX CEO Elon Musk concerned during the week.

It marks the end of a highly successful and long-awaited debut of a crew-capable vehicle for the United States, almost eight years after the last Space Shuttle touched down. The capsule is SpaceX's first that is created to carry humans.

Crew Dragon docked at the ISS on Sunday, 27 hours after blasting off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida last Saturday.

ISS Crew Member Earth Continues Work Aboard the Station 1
Earth making sure she is on schedule | Image credit NASA Anne McClain

What's at stake: While NASA hasn't reported any issues for the first part of Crew Dragon's test flight but the spacecraft must also do well through the descent. Before the mission, NASA officials had said the spacecraft's ability to dock autonomously to the station would be one of the biggest tests of the vehicle.

In a call with the astronauts on board the station Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence said, "It was inspiring to see the launch, and it was actually more inspiring to see the docking, and to see you all open that door and float into that spacecraft knowing that we'll very soon have American astronauts arriving at the International Space Station in the same vehicle".

The Crew Dragon is not now carrying any astronauts.

Musk, also co-founder of electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc, will be watching closely. Musk said, "That could potentially cause a roll instability on re-entry".

A successful launch is quite an achievement, but SpaceX has had plenty of those before. "Reusable version of their new Angara rocket would be great", Musk wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

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