Astronauts Pack Up SpaceX's Crew Dragon for Return to Earth

SpaceX's first Crew Dragon capsule to fly to the International Space Station is all packed up and ready to return to Earth, after astronauts on board the orbiting lab closed the hatch spacecraft's today (March 7). 

The station crew closed the hatch to Crew Dragon at 12:39 p.m. EST (1739 GMT), but not before packing more than 300 lbs. (136 kilograms) of gear aboard to send home  — and snapping a few last-minute photos inside the space capsule. The capsule had carried 400 lbs. (181 kg) up to the station when it arrived earlier this month.

The capsule is scheduled to undock tomorrow (March 8) at 2:31 a.m. EST (0731 GMT) in a procedure that you can watch live at beginning at 2 a.m. EST (0700 GMT), courtesy of NASA TV. The broadcast will resume at 7:30 a.m. (1230 GMT) to cover the capsule's landing.

Related: SpaceX Dragon Crew Demo-1 Test Flight: Full Coverage

Astronauts on board the International Space Station closed the hatch of the first Crew Dragon capsule to visit the orbiting laboratory on March 7, 2019. (Image credit: NASA TV)

Crew Dragon's safe return to Earth poses perhaps the most substantial challenge of the entire Demo-1 flight, which is designed to prove that the system is safe enough to carry astronauts. If all goes well, the capsule will deploy its parachutes and float to touch down on the Atlantic Ocean near Florida, where a ship will fetch it and return it to land.

The next hurdle in SpaceX's quest for human spaceflight will be a successful uncrewed abort test, which will test the escape engines that would fire to carry astronauts to safety if anything were to go wrong. That test is currently scheduled for June.

The trio of astronauts currently aboard the International Space Station posed for photos on the Crew Dragon before closing the hatch on March 7, 2019. (Image credit: NASA TV)

SpaceX won't be the only company to dock a human-rated capsule with the space station; Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is scheduled to conduct a similar uncrewed test flight no earlier than April. 

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Meghan Bartels
Senior Writer

Meghan is a senior writer at and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.