CAPE CANAVERAL, FL (Florida Today) - A cargo-carrying SpaceX capsule splashed down in thePacific Ocean today, completing a successful, 23-day round trip to theInternational Space Station.
"That's greatnews," U.S. astronaut Thomas Marshburn said when Mission Control toldthe outpost crew the Dragon spacecraft had completed a 10-minute enginefiring that dropped it out of orbit.
"That's incredible. We wish them well," added station commander Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency.
The parachute-assisted return to Earth concluded at about 12:34 p.m. EDT.
"SPLASHDOWN! At 9:34 a.m. PT, #Dragon splashed down safely in the Pacific. Welcome home!" the company tweeted.
SpaceXships and personnel already were on hand at the recovery zone 214 milesoff the coast of Baja California. The return had been scheduled forMonday but rough seas prompted a one-day delay.
The SpaceXrecovery fleet includes a 185-foot barge equipped with cranes to liftthe spacecraft onto the vessel. A smaller crew boat carries engineersand a dive team. Two rigid-hulled inflatable boats round out the fleet.
The Dragon capsule is loaded with 2,668 pounds of experiment equipment and science samples.
SpaceXDragon capsules are the only spacecraft capable of returning largeamounts of cargo to Earth now that the U.S. shuttle fleet is retired.Other station resupply ships are filled with trash and deliberatelyincinerated during atmospheric reentry.
The Dragon should be returned to the Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday.
LaunchedMarch 1 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9rocket, the Dragon overcame thruster trouble and reached the station twodays later. More than a ton of supplies were delivered to the station.
Thecommercial cargo carrier departed the orbital laboratory complex at6:56 a.m. EDT today. The capsule had been grappled with the station'sCanadian-built robot arm at 4:10 a.m. EDT, and then moved off of theEarth-facing port of the U.S. Harmony module.
Marshburn andHadfield triggered the release from a robot arm control station in thecomplex's Cupola, a seven-window observation deck. The space station andthe Dragon were flying about 252 miles above the southwest coast ofAustralia at the time.
"There goes Dragon away from the arm," said NASA mission commentator Josh Byerly.
"Looks both beautiful and nominal from here," Hadfield said.
SpaceXflight controllers then executed a series of three thruster firings,pushing the Dragon out of the station's immediate vicinity. The Dragonbegan a 56-minute atmospheric reentry at 11:42 a.m. EDT.
Comingup on Thursday, U.S. astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonautsPavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin are scheduled to blast off fromBaikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Their six-hour flight to theoutpost will mark the first same-day launch-to-docking at theInternational Space Station. Two-day trips have been the norm since thefirst expedition crew opened the orbiting laboratory complex in November2000.
The three-man crew already on board also includes Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko.