A commercial resupply spacecraft loaded with science experiments and cargo undocked from the International Space Station on Tuesday and performed a pinpoint splashdown hours later in the Pacific Ocean.
Dragon's return capped a 31-day space voyage of which 29 days were spent docked to the Earth-facing side of the space station's Harmony module. The supply ship delivered nearly 5,100 pounds of fresh oxygen, food, equipment and water to the four man, two woman international crew on Jan. 12.
Grappled by the station's Canadian-built robotic arm, the Space Exploration Corp. Dragon was released into space at 2:10 p.m. EST, as the two spaceships soared 260 miles high over southern Australia. Filled with 3,700 pounds of numerous biological and physical samples, equipment and trash, Dragon then performed a series of burns to place it on course for a deorbit burn.
Once Dragon reached a precise point over Earth, it fired its thrusters to slow down the craft's speed by two hundred miles per hour and drop out of orbit. Forty minutes later, two massive parachutes slowed the charred spacecraft down allowing for a safe water landing at 7:44 p.m. EST, 259 miles southwest of Long Beach, California.
Dragon remains the only American spacecraft which can return science cargo safely to Earth so that scientists and engineers on the ground can analysis the data. This concluded flight was SpaceX fifth supply craft to deliver cargo and supplies to the space station and return successfully to earth.
"The ability to resupply and return this critical research continues to
be an invaluable asset for the researchers here on Earth using the
International Space Station as their laboratory in orbit," Kirt
Costello, NASA deputy chief scientist for the International Space Station
Program, said on Tuesday.
A European unmanned cargo craft is also due to depart the space station this week. The Automated Transfer Vehicle 5 will leave the orbital outpost on Saturday morning en route to a fiery re-entry and burn up over the Pacific waters.