SpaceX Dragon cargo ship splashes into Pacific
The SpaceX Dragon capsule returned to Earth on Tuesday with a full science load from the International Space Station. The privately owned cargo ship splashed down in the Pacific right on target, 250 miles off the coast of Mexico's Baja Peninsula, five hours after leaving the orbiting lab.
The California-based SpaceX confirmed the Dragon's safe arrival via Twitter. The capsule brought back more than 1 ton of science experiments and old station equipment, as well as 13 toy sets of Lego building blocks that were used by space station crews over the past couple years to teach children about science.
It's the only supply ship capable of two-way delivery. With the space shuttles retired, NASA is paying SpaceX more than $1 billion for a dozen resupply missions. Earlier in the day, astronauts released the unmanned capsule from the end of the space station's giant robot arm.
The 250-mile-high parting was a poignant moment for the three space station's residents, who helped to snare the Dragon three weeks earlier. The Dragon used old-NASA-style parachutes to plop into the ocean; company officials indicated all appeared to go well during the re-entry.
SpaceX launched the capsule from Cape Canaveral at the beginning of March. Mechanical trouble delayed the capsule's arrival at the space station by a day. SpaceX flight controllers at company headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., managed to fix the problem within hours.
Once the Dragon pulls into port, NASA will retrieve the science samples meticulously collected over the weeks and months by space station astronauts, as well as experiments that flew up with Dragon, including hundreds of flowering weeds.
This was the second flight of a Dragon to the space station under the $1.6 billion contract with NASA, and the third delivery mission altogether for SpaceX. A competitor, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., plans a test flight of its Antares rocket and a dummy payload next month.