SpaceX return: How Nasa astronauts’ splashdown has changed the future of space travel – The Independent

That's one quick drop for man; one giant splash for mankind.

The safe return of SpaceX's Crew Dragon is not on the scale of the moon landings, of course, but it could certainly be a step towards space travel successes of similarly soaring heights.

The capsule left Earth some two months ago, carrying two astronauts who were to visit the International Space Station but also carry out one of the most high-stakes tests possible: the final assessment of the capsule itself, conducting the mission it was built to do, and ensuring that it could go on to be approved for more regular Nasa missions.

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It was not only a test of the capsule itself, but of Nasa's overarching Commercial Crew Programme. That has seen it turn to private companies Elon Musk's SpaceX most famously, but others too in an attempt to restore its former success in space travel.

In all, the mission marks a historic success: it is the first time that astronauts were sent from US soil since the Space Shuttle programme ended in 2011, and the first successful splashdown in 45 years, since the Apollo programme.

Nasa hopes that it will return the space agency and its space flight capabilities to those historic heights. It hopes that it will now be able to reliably and routinely fly astronauts to space from home, as it did with the Space Shuttle, and use that to explore more of the solar system, as with Apollo.

The collaboration between SpaceX and Nasa where the private company builds the rocket and capsule, and the space agency directs and funds the mission as well as providing the astronauts is its aim for doing that. It hopes that will allow for the full ingenuity and risk to be taken on by the private sector, while it gets to benefit from American-made spacecraft carrying US astronauts from its own facilities.

The space agency is already hailing the mission as proof that it works.

"Welcome home, Bob and Doug! Congratulations to the NASA and SpaceX teams for the incredible work to make this test flight possible, said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement released after the successful splashdown.

Its a testament to what we can accomplish when we work together to do something once thought impossible. Partners are key to how we go farther than ever before and take the next steps on daring missions to the Moon and Mars."

Of course, nothing this big happens in one moment. The mission was hailed as a success as soon as the rocket successfully launched, and the test while very high-stakes was just the end of an extensive assessment process that has been ongoing since 2015.

Before that, Nasa's Commercial Program had been running for years, in the hope that such a breakthrough was possible. It was started 10 years ago and has included other companies, too including Boeing, which plans crewed tests of its own soon.

Mystic Mountain, a pillar of gas and dust standing at three-light-years tall, bursting with jets of gas from fledgling stars buried within, was captured by Nasa's Hubble Space Telescope in February 2010

Nasa/ESA/STScI

The first ever selfie taken on an alien planet, captured by Nasa's Curiosity Rover in the early days of its mission to explore Mars in 2012

Nasa/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Death of a star: This image from Nasa's Chandra X-ray telescope shows the supernova of Tycho, a star in our Milky Way galaxy

Nasa

Arrokoth, the most distant object ever explored, pictured here on 1 January 2019 by a camera on Nasa's New Horizons spaceraft at a distance of 4.1 billion miles from Earth

Getty

An image of the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy seen in infrared light by the Herschel Space Observatory in January 2012. Regions of space such as this are where new stars are born from a mixture of elements and cosmic dust

Nasa

The first ever image of a black hole, captured by the Event Horizon telescope, as part of a global collaboration involving Nasa, and released on 10 April 2019. The image reveals the black hole at the centre of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster. This black hole resides about 54 million light-years from Earth

Getty

Pluto, as pictured by Nasa's New Horizons spacecraft as it flew over the dwarf planet for the first time ever in July 2015

Nasa/APL/SwRI

A coronal mass ejection as seen by the Chandra Observatory in 2019. This is the first time that Chandra has detected this phenomenon from a star other than the Sun

Nasa

Dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks running downhill on the surface Mars were believed to be evidence of contemporary flowing water. It has since been suggested that they may instead be formed by flowing sand

Nasa/JPL/University of Arizona

Morning Aurora: Nasa astronaut Scott Kelly captured this photograph of the green lights of the aurora from the International Space Station in October 2015

Nasa/Scott Kelly

Mystic Mountain, a pillar of gas and dust standing at three-light-years tall, bursting with jets of gas from fledgling stars buried within, was captured by Nasa's Hubble Space Telescope in February 2010

Nasa/ESA/STScI

The first ever selfie taken on an alien planet, captured by Nasa's Curiosity Rover in the early days of its mission to explore Mars in 2012

Nasa/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Death of a star: This image from Nasa's Chandra X-ray telescope shows the supernova of Tycho, a star in our Milky Way galaxy

Nasa

Arrokoth, the most distant object ever explored, pictured here on 1 January 2019 by a camera on Nasa's New Horizons spaceraft at a distance of 4.1 billion miles from Earth

Getty

An image of the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy seen in infrared light by the Herschel Space Observatory in January 2012. Regions of space such as this are where new stars are born from a mixture of elements and cosmic dust

Nasa

The first ever image of a black hole, captured by the Event Horizon telescope, as part of a global collaboration involving Nasa, and released on 10 April 2019. The image reveals the black hole at the centre of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster. This black hole resides about 54 million light-years from Earth

Getty

Pluto, as pictured by Nasa's New Horizons spacecraft as it flew over the dwarf planet for the first time ever in July 2015

Nasa/APL/SwRI

A coronal mass ejection as seen by the Chandra Observatory in 2019. This is the first time that Chandra has detected this phenomenon from a star other than the Sun

Nasa

Dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks running downhill on the surface Mars were believed to be evidence of contemporary flowing water. It has since been suggested that they may instead be formed by flowing sand

Nasa/JPL/University of Arizona

Morning Aurora: Nasa astronaut Scott Kelly captured this photograph of the green lights of the aurora from the International Space Station in October 2015

Nasa/Scott Kelly

The philosophical underpinnings of that programme run even further than that. They arguably began in failure, when Nasa and the US banked on the Space Shuttle being the future of space travel and when that programme came to an end without the promised replacement, the space agency was forced to rely on buying tickets on Russian spacecraft to get its astronauts to the International Space Station.

There is of course nothing to say that the new programmes could end in similar disappointment. The space shuttle looked like the future until it did not, and public space agencies have still achieved far more success than any private company when it comes to travelling in space.

But they are much more likely, of course, to have great success. According to both Nasa and SpaceX, that success could lead to humans going to the Moon to live, and from there heading on to Mars; landing in the sea could be one little part of the grand path to explore further in our solar system than many ever dreamed possible.

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SpaceX return: How Nasa astronauts' splashdown has changed the future of space travel - The Independent

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