NASA’s goal of sending astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard commercial spacecraft took a major step forward as SpaceX’s Demo-1 mission splashed down ending the human spaceflight gap with the launch of their Crew Dragon spacecraft on its first demonstration flight. Dragon is named after Puff the Magic Dragon, referencing skepticism that SpaceX would be able to realize its ambitions Flying without astronauts aboard for its Demo-1 test flight, Crew Dragon lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center atop a Falcon 9 rocket. It’s launch has been years in the making and also represents a step forward for SpaceX’s ambition of taking humans to Mars through the demonstration of a spacecraft that can carry a crew to orbit and return them safely to the Earth.

New crew capsule of SpaceX returned to Earth on Saturday, undocking occurred at 02:31 EST (0731 UTC) with five hours of free-flight ahead of Crew Dragon’s deorbit burn at 07:53 EST (1253 UTC) and ending its first test flight by splashing down successfully in the Atlantic Ocean at 08:45 EST (1345 UTC). The Dragon undocked from the International Space Station six hours before the capsule carrying a test dummy glided down into the Atlantic off the Florida coast.

The mission carried 180 kilograms of test equipment to the space station, including a dummy named Ripley outfitted with sensors around its head, neck, and spine to monitor how a flight would feel for a human. The sensor-laden mannequin, nicknamed Ripley (in honour of Sigourney Weaver’s character in the “Alien” sci-fi movies), came along for the ride as well as a plush-toy version of Earth.

Dragon 2 is a class of reusable spacecraft developed and manufactured by American aerospace manufacturer SpaceX, conceived as the successor to the Dragon cargo spacecraft. The spacecraft are designed for launches atop a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket and a splashdown return. Dragon 2 consists of a pressurized capsule and an unpressurized trunk. The capsule can seat up to seven astronauts and can be reused for future missions after a successful landing. Although SpaceX considered land-based landings during the early stages of Crew Dragon’s development, they have settled on splashdown and recovery at sea.

Compare to its predecessor, Dragon 2 has larger windows, new flight computers and avionics, redesigned solar arrays, and a modified outer mold line. The spacecraft will be used in two variants, Crew Dragon 2, a human-rated capsule capable of carrying up to seven astronauts, and Cargo Dragon 2, an updated replacement for the original Dragon. The fleet of Cargo craft will be re purposed Crew vessels that have already flown their mission. Crew Dragon, or Dragon 2, is uniquely equipped with a set of four side-mounted thruster pods with two SuperDraco engines each, which serve as a launch escape system. Both variants will be contracted for logistical operations of the International Space Station under either the Commercial Resupply Services 2 or Commercial Crew Development programs.

NASA has awarded SpaceX and Boeing Co. a total of $6.8 billion to build competing rocket and capsule systems that will launch astronauts into orbit from American soil, an achievement that hasn’t been possible since the Space Shuttle programme was retired in 2011. Once they are operational, the new systems aim to end US reliance on Russian Soyuz rockets that cost $80 million-per-seat to ride to the $100 billion orbital research laboratory. According to SpaceX, the Crew Dragon will be able to deliver astronauts to the station at a much lower cost per seat, especially for fully-manned flights with seven astronauts.