SpaceX Achieves Successful Space Station Cargo Delivery and Return Mission With Sunday Splashdown
SpaceX’s Dragon capsule splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean off the southern California coast Sunday afternoon, successfully restoring a U. S. cargo delivery and return capability to the International Space Station once shouldered by NASA’s long running space shuttle program.
The Dragon freighter, filled with nearly a ton of frozen biomedical specimens and hardware from the station in need of refurbishment, descended by parachute into the ocean waters west of Baja, Calif., at 3:22 p.m., EDT, or about six hours after NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide released the capsule from the station.
SpaceX recovery ships will retrieve the capsule and set sail for Los Angeles to off load Dragon. The capsule will be transported to a SpaceX test facility in McGregor, Tex., for much of the cargo unloading. However, the frozen biomedical specimens will be flown to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for distribution to researchers.
The samples will reflect physical changes experienced by astronauts during long periods of weightlessness, findings that will be helpful to NASA as it plans future deep space exploration missions.
The three week Dragon mission marked the first of 12 SpaceX supply missions the Hawthorne,Calif., based company is under contract to launch and recover as part of a $1.6 billion agreement with NASA.
The flight followed a successful May demonstration mission by SpaceX to the space station, which was flown under NASA’s six-year-old Commercial Orbital Space Transportation Systems initiative.
A second U. S.company, Orbital Science Corp., is working toward a 2013 COTS demonstration to the station with its Antares launcher and Cygnus supply craft.
NASA’s 30-year shuttle program came to a close in July 2011.