The second SpaceX Dragon – a commercially developed cargo craft – has successfully splashed down in the Pacific Ocean west of Mexico’s Baja California this morning (March 26, 2013). Splashdown was scheduled for splashdown at 11:34 a.m. CDT (1634 UTC) this morning, and SpaceX confirmed the Dragon’s return to Earth via Twitter. Dragon departed the International Space Station earlier today, carrying a load of thousands of pounds of experiment samples and gear, for a rapid return to Earth that required just over five hours from space to splashdown.
ISS astronauts used the space station’s robotic arm to pluck Dragon from its berthing port and release it back to Earth orbit and, ultimately, splashdown. The ISS and Dragon were 252 miles above Australia at the time.
This was the second flight for the SpaceX Dragon. The first made history last May as the first privately built spacecraft to rendezvous with the International Space Station. Now, SpaceX is expected to send regular re-supply missions to the orbiting space station and to continue to work to launch astronauts into orbit in a few years. Dragon is designed to carry up to seven astronauts at a time. Last May, after the first Dragon made its successful return to Earth, SpaceX founder, CEO and chief designer Elon Musk said:
We are hoping to continue working with NASA and hopefully flying crew within three years. This was a crucial step and makes the chances of becoming a multi planet species more likely.
This year, Dragon launched on March 1 and reached ISS on March 3 with more than 2,300 pounds (1,043 kg) of science equipment, spare parts, food and supplies. In all, there are currently 12 planned cargo runs to ISS planned by Space Exploration Technologies, better known as SpaceX, under a $1.6 billion NASA contract.
SpaceX is not the only private space company with a NASA contract. A second freighter, built and operated by Orbital Sciences Corp, is expected to go into action later this year. NASA hired both private companies to fill the gap left by the retirement of its space shuttle fleet in 2011.
As Dragon left ISS today, station flight engineer Thomas Marshburn radioed to Mission Control in Houston:
It looks beautiful from here. Sad to see the Dragon go. Performed her job beautifully, heading back to her lair. Wish her all the best for the splashdown today.
Bottom line: Space X Dragon left the International Space Station earlier today (March 26, 2013) and has now splashed down in the Pacific.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.