Watch SpaceX Crew Dragon make its dangerous descent to Earth

See the Demo-1 capsule overcome one last challenge as it navigates deorbit and an ocean splashdown.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
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Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Amanda Kooser
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Crew Dragon on the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida prior to launch.

NASA/Joel Kowsky

Launch from Earth on a Falcon 9 rocket: check. Orbit the planet: check. Dock at the International Space Station: check. Head back to Earth: just hours away.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon has nearly completed its  NASA  Demo-1 mission. The next big step is to undock from the ISS and come back to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean. You can tune in to NASA TV for all the action on Thursday and Friday.

Watch this: SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft docks with the International Space Station

NASA kicked off its live coverage on Thursday when the ISS crew closed the hatch leading to the capsule. The procedure went smoothly and as of 12:39 p.m. PT, Ripley -- SpaceX's astronaut dummy -- has been locked away in the Crew Dragon ready to deploy. 

Officially, undocking from the ISS occurred at approximately 11:32 p.m. PT, providing some stunning vision from the station's highdefinition cameras

Crew Dragon undocks from the ISS.


Crew Dragon will spend a little time in space before re-entering the atmosphere. NASA TV will track the deorbit and landing starting around 4:30 a.m. PT Friday. The deorbit burn, powering the Crew Dragon back to Earth will occur not long after that at 4:50 a.m. and then the all important splashdown will occur at some point between 5:30 a.m. and 5:45 a.m.

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The Crew Dragon hatch is closed, as seen from the ISS.

Video screenshot by CNET

Crew Dragon delivered crew supplies and equipment to the ISS. While no humans were on board, the capsule did host a test dummy named Ripley and a cute Earth plushie toy, which was adopted by NASA astronaut Anne McClain. The capsule will return with Ripley and research samples on board, but the cuddly Earth will remain behind on the ISS.

While SpaceX has aced the proceedings so far, this next stage will test the Crew Dragon's departure, re-entry and parachute systems. SpaceX's Go Searcher recovery ship will pick up the capsule from the water. 

This adventure marks the first test flight for NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which involves SpaceX and Boeing working to launch astronauts from US soil for the first time since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.

Even if Crew Dragon passes scrutiny for the Demo-1 mission, there's another giant test: an "in-flight abort" that will showcase the Crew Dragon's safety features should something go wrong during launch. Provided that all runs smoothly, astronauts could launch in a SpaceX capsule as early as midyear.

Just one more box to check.

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Originally published, March 5.
Update, March 8, 2 a.m. PT: Adds countdown to the mission's end, details of undocking and splashdown.