May 31, 2012
Dragon Capsule Comes Home, Mission Complete
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Lee Rannals for RedOrbit.com
SpaceX had an ideal ending to its Dragon capsule mission as the spacecraft zipped safely back through Earth's atmosphere and into the Pacific Ocean on Thursday.
The Dragon capsule spent over a week in space, becoming the first commercial vehicle to dock with the International Space Station.
SpaceX's prized capsule saw numerous launch delays, and one abort, until it finally was able to send Dragon into orbit last Tuesday at 3:44 a.m.
Dragon reached the space station on Friday last week after performing a series of tests around the orbiting outpost to ensure it could dock safely.
Astronauts aboard the ISS grasped onto Dragon, bringing the capsule in to help resupply them with food, clothing, and science experiments to keep them busy.
“Today marks another critical step in the future of American spaceflight,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement after the successful docking. “Now that a U.S. company has proven its ability to resupply the space station, it opens a new frontier for commercial opportunities in space – and new job creation opportunities right here in the U.S.”
Dragon detached from the orbiting laboratory early Thursday, and splashed down into the Pacific Ocean later in the morning.
Crews are now on their way to recover the vehicle from its landing spot in the ocean, and haul it back to land.
The spacecraft is the only reusable capsule that international space agencies have to use to resupply their astronauts.
Bolden said this step into the age of a commercialized space industry frees up NASA “to carry out the really hard work of sending astronauts farther into the solar system than ever before.”
With the successful mission, SpaceX is earning a $1.6 billion contract from NASA for 12 more resupply missions to the ISS.
“The investments made by the United States to stimulate the commercial space industry are paying off,” Philip McAlister, director for Commercial Spaceflight Development at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement. “SpaceX achieved what until now was only possible by a few governments, and the company did it with relatively modest funding from the government.