Dragon back after space station trip

Dragon back after space station trip

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - The Associated Press
Dragon back after space station trip

His photo shows the privately owned California-based SpaceX’s Dragon capsule secured on a recovery boat, post-splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. REUTERS Photo

An unmanned space capsule carrying medical samples from the International Space Station splashed down in the Pacific Ocean Oct. 28, completing the first official private interstellar shipment under a billion-dollar contract with NASA.

The privately owned California-based SpaceX company gently guided the Dragon into the water via parachutes at 12:22 p.m. off the Baja California coast.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station used a giant robot arm to release the commercial cargo ship 410 kilometers up in space. SpaceX provided updates of the journey home via Twitter, including a video of the Dragon separating from the ISS.

Blood, urine samples

The supply ship brought back nearly 900 kilometers of science experiments and old station equipment. Perhaps the most eagerly awaited cargo is nearly 500 frozen samples of blood and urine collected by station astronauts over the past year.

The Dragon is the only delivery ship capable of returning items, now that NASA’s shuttles are retired to museums. Atlantis made the last shuttle haul to and from the station in July 2011.

SpaceX, more formally Space Exploration Technologies Corp., launched the capsule three weeks ago from Cape Canaveral, full of groceries, clothes and other station supplies. Ice cream as well as fresh apples were especially appreciated by the station residents, now back up to a full crew of six.

First flight

It’s the second Dragon to return from the orbiting lab; the first mission in May was a flight demo. This flight is the first of 12 deliveries under a $1.6 billion contract with National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“It was nice while she was on board,” space station commander Sunita Williams said as the Dragon backed away. “We tamed her, took her home and, literally and figuratively, there’s a piece of us on that spacecraft going home to Earth.”