Splashdown! SpaceX Dragon returns to Earth

Recovery ship secures Dragon capsule after successful return from space station

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean Tuesday, winding up a three-week mission to resupply the International Space Station.

SpaceX Dragon splashdown
The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft uses parachutes to to aid in its splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. (Photo: SpaceX)

Dragon returned to Earth at 12:34 p.m. EDT a few hundred miles west of Baja California, Mexico, marking a successful end to the second mission contracted by NASA to deliver and return scientific experiments and supplies to and from astronauts on the space station.

SpaceX co-founder Elon Musk today used Twitter to talk about Dragon's journey home. Prior to its landing, he tweeted that the spacecraft had a good deorbit burn and that all thrusters were working, and then said that the recovery ship heard the sonic boom from the spacecraft's reentry.

And then 28 minutes after tweeting that Dragon's parachutes had deployed, Musk tweeted that the recovery ship had secured the spacecraft and all secondary systems were being powered down.

"Cargo looks A ok," he tweeted.

NASA reported that SpaceX had confirmed to engineers there that Dragon splashed down at 12:34 p.m., right on schedule.

Dragon came home loaded with about 2,600 pounds of used hardware, completed experiments and trash. It had ferried about 1,200 pounds of supplies and new experiments to the space station.

The Dragon capsule blasted off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on March 1. After a thrusters glitch delayed its rendezvous by a day, the craft docked at the space station on March 3. It remained there until early this morning.

During the three weeks that Dragon was docked at the space station, the astronauts unloaded and then reloaded the spacecraft.

The next SpaceX resupply mission to the space station is scheduled for late September.

The mission that ended today is the second of 12 SpaceX flights contracted by NASA to resupply the space station. It also was the third trip by a Dragon capsule to the orbiting laboratory.

SpaceX made a demonstration flight in May 2012 and then launched its first official resupply mission last October, delivering 882 pounds of supplies to the space station.

Being able to launch successful commercial missions is critical to NASA since the space agency retired its fleet of space shuttles in 2011.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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