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SpaceX Cements U. S. Commercial Role in Support of the International Space Station

SpaceX successfully completed the second U. S. commercial re-supply mission to the International Space Station on Tuesday, as the Hawthorne, Calif., based company’s Dragon capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean with nearly 2,700 pounds in scientific gear and other equipment.

A SpaceX's Dragon capsule prepares to depart the International Space Station early Tuesday with nearly 2,700 pounds of science equipment and other gear. Photo Credit/NASA TV

A small SpaceX fleet of recovery vessels stationed in the Pacific waters off Baja, Calif., retrieved the un-piloted supply vessel and headed for port in the Los Angeles area, where arrival is expected by late Wednesday.

Tuesday’s splashdown occurred at 12:34 p.m., EDT. Launched March 1 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., the Dragon capsule rendezvoused and berthed with the station two days later, delivering nearly 1,300 pounds of science equipment and other supplies.

Early Tuesday, astronauts Tom Marshburn, of NASA, and Chris Hadfield, of the Canadian Space Agency, used the space station’s robot arm to release the Dragon, initiating a quick trip back to Earth.

NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, foreground, and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield send the SpaceX Dragon on its way back to Earth early Tuesday. Photo Credit/NASA TV

The cargo mission was the second flown under a $1.6 billion NASA Commercial Resupply Services agreement awarded to SpaceX in late 2008. NASA initiated efforts to develop commercial cargo and crew space transportation services in 2005 to fill the void left by the retirement of the long running space shuttle program in mid 2011.

SpaceX became the first of two companies to launch space station supply missions in 2012. Orbital Sciences Corp., of  Dulles, Va., the second company, is looking to a demonstration cargo delivery mission this year, and possibly the start of regular supply deliveries under a $1.9 billion NASA contract also awarded in 2008.

Meanwhile, NASA is currently partnered with SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada to develop a commercial crew space transportation capability. NASA is looking to 2017 for the first flight of astronauts to the space station.

Since the shuttle’s retirement, the United States has looked to Russia to transport astronauts to and from the space station.

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