Thursday, May 21, 2015

American resupply craft returns space station science home

A commercial resupply craft departed the International Space Station on Thursday and wrapped up a historic month in orbit with a successful splashdown of the coast of California.

Loaded with 3,120 pounds of science equipment and biological samples, the Dragon supply ship was undocked by astronauts using the space station's robotic arm and then released at 7:04 a.m. EDT. The craft then maneuvered away with a series of burns to guide the craft into position to leave Earth orbit.

The Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) completed its sixth resupply mission for NASA as the Dragon capsule performed an on time landing at 12:42 p.m., upon the Pacific waters 155 miles southwest of Long Beach. SpaceX released an observation report that the craft made a pinpoint splashdown.

Dragon is the world's only uncrewed spacecraft able to both deliver scientific experiments and return them safely to earth. Only hours following splashdown, Dragon had been plucked out of the water and placed on the deck of the boat for its trip home. The multiple experiments had also been removed for their return to Texas.

"The returning Space Aging study examines the effects of spaceflight on the aging of roundworms, widely used as a model for larger organisms," NASA spokesperson Kathryn Hambleton said on Thursday. "By growing millimeter-long roundworms on the space station, researchers can observe physiological changes that may affect the rate at which organisms age. This can be applied to changes observed in astronauts, as well, particularly in developing countermeasures before long-duration missions."

The successful flight keeps the company on track for both it's future supply missions to deliver fresh cargo to the orbiting outpost, and the first crewed launches beginning in 2017. The flight marked the sixth of 15 planned flights designed to ferry supplies to the station.

The next Dragon resupply mission is planned for June 26 at 11:09 a.m. a top a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The launch team will try again to attempt an on target landing of the Falcon's first stage aboard a floating platform of the Florida coastline.

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