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SpaceX completes milestone test mission of its Crew Dragon spacecraft

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk holds a press conference about his company's Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

After a nearly week-long mission, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule returned to Earth Thursday morning, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Florida.

The big picture: This "Demo-1 mission" for SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule marked the first time that a commercially built and operated spacecraft designed to carry a human crew has docked at the International Space Station from U.S. soil. The test mission completed numerous milestones, each of which NASA and SpaceX will be reviewing before going forward with a crewed test flight this spring.

  • All parachute deployments for the Crew Dragon's atmosphere re-entry went according to plan.
  • The spacecraft successfully docked and then undocked automatically with the ISS, the first time a cargo capsule has done this without a human pilot at the helm.
  • This mission marked the first use of new adapters to connect the Crew Dragon with the space station. These adapters will be used with the Orion spacecraft for NASA’s future mission to the moon, per a NASA press release following the Dragon's re-entry on Friday.

What's next: An in-flight, uncrewed abort test will take place after the Demo-1 mission. Assuming all goes smoothly and the company meets certification requirements, then the first crewed SpaceX test flight to the ISS, with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board, could blast off as early as July.

Boeing, which also is developing a new spacecraft to launch astronauts to the ISS, has a timeline that is proceeding at roughly the same pace.

Go deeper: SpaceX launch brings the U.S. closer to restoring passenger flights