Crew Dragon departs ISS and returns to Earth

This still image taken from NASA TV shows SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft safely aboard the company's recovery vessel following splashdown

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule on Friday returned home from its historic six-day test flight.

Assuming a detailed post-flight inspection and data analysis confirm the capsule's apparently problem-free performance, NASA will be a major step closer to launching two astronauts aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule this summer, the first flight of a USA crew from American soil since the shuttle made its final flight in 2011.

Russian Federation has been critical of SpaceX and Elon Musk before, and it's no secret that some of the biggest names in Russia's space science scene aren't super fond of the company or its boss.

SpaceX's recovery ship headed out to pull the Dragon onto its "nest" and bring it back to shore for inspection.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon is an upgraded version of the robotic cargo-carrying Dragon that has been ferrying payloads to and from the space station since 2012, a year after NASA retired its space shuttle fleet.

Whenever one or both spacecraft begin operational flights to the station, possibly by the end of the year, NASA will finally be able to end its sole reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit at a cost of more than $80 million a seat. The educational stuffed toy will remain on the space station while it's ride returns to Earth. It's the first commercial flight to dock with the ISS and it's the first American made crew-carrying spacecraft to be launched by the USA in eight years.

Since then, both companies have faced delays and setbacks.

"Fifty years after humans landed on the moon for the first time, America has driven a golden spike on the trail to new space exploration feats through the work of our commercial partner SpaceX", astronaut Anne McClain said as the Crew Dragon departed the space station.

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Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine, left, and Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX.

The capsule launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket early Saturday morning. The smell was gone after the space station's air was cycled, but the unnamed source within Russia's space program made sure everyone knew about it.

What's at stake: While NASA hasn't reported any issues for the first part of Crew Dragon's test flight but the spacecraft must also do well through the descent. The Demo-2 flight vehicle that will carry humans to space is still under construction by SpaceX.

The Atlantic Ocean landing is the first in almost 50 years for a capsule that was designed for humans, NASA says.

In a call with the astronauts on board the station Wednesday, Vice President Pence said, "It was inspiring to see the launch, and it was actually more inspiring to see the docking, and to see you all open that door and float into that spacecraft knowing that we'll very soon have American astronauts arriving at the International Space Station in the same vehicle". Success is the norm for SpaceX, it seems.

Musk and his companies have been under scrutiny lately.

The spacecraft fired its thrusters at 7:53 a.m.

"I think our plan is to have him teach us", Behnken said, referring to Li'l Earthie. "I'd say hypersonic re-entry is probably my biggest concern, just because of the asymmetric backshell".

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