HAWTHORNE (CBSLA) – The unpiloted Crew Dragon capsule, built by Hawthorne-based SpaceX as a precursor to restart U.S. astronaut launches, entered the earth’s atmosphere Friday morning and then successfully splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, capping off a successful eight-day mission.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean on March 8, 2019. (NASA)

According to NASA and SpaceX, the Crew Dragon began a roughly 15-minute de-orbit burn through the atmosphere at around 4:53 a.m. The capsule splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean at around 5:45 a.m. Friday. Recovery boats were waiting to hoist the capsule with cranes onto the “Go Searcher” recovery ship.

“Crew Dragon returned to Earth with a splash in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida’s eastern shore at 8:45am ET, completing an end-to-end flight test to the @Space_Station and back as part of our @Commercial_Crew Program,” NASA tweeted.

The unmanned capsule, carrying about 400 pounds of supplies and equipment, was launched into space as a historic test mission late March 1 aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and it docked with the International Space Station on March 3.

“Today’s successful splashdown of the @SpaceX Demo-1 #CrewDragon capsule after its mission to @Space_Station marked another milestone in a new era of human spaceflight,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted. “@Commercial_Crew is one step closer to launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.”

The only passenger on Crew Dragon during the current mission was a sensor-laden mannequin named Ripley, dubbed in honor of Sigourney Weaver’s character in the “Alien” sci-fi film series.

Nearly five days later, astronauts at the Space Station closed the hatch on the capsule, according to NASA. The capsule undocked from the station at 11:30 p.m. Thursday, beginning its relatively short trip back to Earth. The detachment aired on a live online feed on schedule, and SpaceX Tweeted: “Separation confirmed!”

According to CBS News’ space expert William Harwood, the Crew Dragon’s successful mission means the first piloted flight of the spacecraft could take place as soon as July. NASA has already chosen astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley for the historic mission.

Crew Dragon’s maiden flight into space is a major milestone in American space flight. The United States has not launched astronauts into space since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011. SpaceX and Boeing have both now contracted with NASA to conduct astronaut launches, with Crew Dragon the first capsule actually launched into space on a test mission.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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