PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. (FOX 35 Orlando) - Splashdown, right on time and right on target!
A SpaceX Dragon Capsule made a successful, and historic, return to Earth Friday morning. The capsule, which launched last Saturday, parachuted down into the Atlantic Ocean near Port Canaveral around 8:45 a.m.
The Dragon undocked from the International Space Station early Friday. Six hours later, the capsule carrying a test dummy, named Ripley, plopped into the Atlantic off the Florida coast -- a big reason for mission control to celebrate.
"This is an amazing achievement in American history,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said.
It marks the first time in 50 years that a capsule designed for astronauts returned from space. Apollo 9 splashed down near the Bahamas on March 13, 1969. Experts said the launch and landing are the most dangerous parts of the journey.
"These are all capabilities that are leading to a day where we are launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” Bridenstine said.
NASA TV captured an infrared view of the capsule upon re-entry, plummeting through Earth’s atmosphere and testing the heat shield for 15 minutes. NASA marked the de-orbit burn right on schedule.
Next, the parachutes deployed like blooming flowers, slowing the capsule down before striking the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. Boats nearby were ready to speed over to begin recovery -- all of this happening about 280 miles northeast of Port Canaveral.
The capsule is now on a 30-hour trip home to the Kennedy Space Center. Scientists will study all of the data gathered, refurbish the capsule and get it ready for the ultimate goal.
"Really a sustainable return to the moon quite frankly, which is my charge the president has given me to get us back to the moon,” Bridenstine said.
Part of northeast Florida may have gotten to see the capsule re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, but at Jetty Park the clouds moved-in, blocking any sign of the plasma trail.
The success of this mission marks the beginning of a Space Coast comeback, as plans are made to launch astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time in seven years.
NASA astronauts have been stuck riding Russian rockets since space shuttles retired eight years ago. NASA is counting on SpaceX and Boeing to start launching astronauts this year, as early as July.