SpaceX's Crew Dragon Looks Just Like a Toasted Marshmallow After Fiery Re-Entry

When SpaceX launched its first Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station last week, the gleaming white vehicle soared into space on its maiden voyage. Now, Crew Dragon is back, and it doesn't look so new.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon returned to Earth today (March 8) with a smooth splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, just off the east coast of Florida, ending a six-day test flight to the International Space Station. When the spacecraft undocked from the space station earlier in the day, it was still a clear white. But now, after experiencing the fiery heat of re-entry, not so much.

"You might also notice that the thermal protection system on the outside of Dragon, if you were watching during launch, was a pristine white," said SpaceX engineer Kate Tice with the company's build and flight reliability team during live splashdown commentary. "There was plasma, of course, as it re-entered through Earth's atmosphere, so we have a lovely toasted marshmallow there sitting in the nest of our recovery ship."


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Crew Dragon is SpaceX's first spacecraft built to carry astronauts for NASA under the agencys' Commercial Crew program. This flight, called Demo-1, was an uncrewed test mission to see if the spacecraft will be ready for its astronauts. For Demo-1, Crew Dragon carried a dummy astronaut named Ripley, named after a character from the "Alien" films, in a SpaceX spacesuit to record what a human astronaut might experience.

In addition to SpaceX's Crew Dragon, NASA also plans to fly astronauts on the CST-100 Starliner built by Boeing this year. That spacecraft is scheduled to fly its own uncrewed test flight in April. SpaceX and Boeing must also successfully perform uncrewed tests of their vehicles' in-flight abort systems before launching astronauts into space.
Getting close to having actual human passengers. So far so good.