The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, which is conducting its first manned test flight, landed in the Atlantic Ocean at 2 p.m. Estee on Sunday, marking the beginning of a new era of commercial manned spaceflight in the world. SpaceX has safely returned NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to Earth, ending a two-month test that is historic for both the company and NASA.
The mission, known as The Demo-2, is the first time Elon Musk’s company has sent astronauts into space, making SpaceX the first private company in history to put astronauts into orbit. For NASA, it marks a return to the U.S. ability to launch its own astronauts. Since the end of the space shuttle program nearly a decade ago, the United States has lacked the ability to send astronauts from home to the International Space Station. NASA plans to use SpaceX spacecraft to send astronauts into space every few months, at an estimated cost of $55 million per seat.
“It’s really building a business model for the future,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Sunday’s webcast. “This is the next era of human space flight, and NASA will be a customer.”
The Demo-2 mission marks SpaceX’s last test after years of research and development of the Dragon spacecraft. NASA has awarded SpaceX $3.1 billion to develop the spacecraft and carry out six missions. The agency also signed a $4.8 billion contract with Boeing to develop a spacecraft called Starliner, which is still under development after a failed flight test last December.
NASA is expected to review data from Demo-2 for about six weeks before continuing its first mission, scheduled for late September.
The next task is at the end of September.
The test flight is primarily to verify the manned Dragon spacecraft, which will officially implement NASA’s Commercial Crew Program with SpaceX.
Assuming the data review from Demo-2 doesn’t reveal any major problems, the dragon’s first official flight,SpaceX Crew-1, will be scheduled for September 2020, when four astronauts will fly to the International Space Station on a Dragon spacecraft, where they will stay for six months.