WASHINGTON – The Dragon cargo ship that last week became the first commercial spacecraft to visit the International Space Station floated back to Earth just before noon eastern time on Thursday (May 31), splashing down on target in the Pacific Ocean several hundred miles west of Baja California.
The end of the historic mission came at 11:42 a.m. EDT, according to NASA and spacecraft builder Space Exploration Technologies Inc. (SpaceX, Hawthorne, Calif.). Navy recovery ships equipped with infrared cameras showed Dragon’s three main parachutes deploy on schedule after space station astronauts released Dragon early Thursday morning. Dragon then performed several thruster burns to slowly move away from the space station. Hours later it performed a 9-minute “de-orbit” burn over the Indian Ocean and jettisoned its “trunk” equipment module, signaling the beginning of the end of successful nine-day mission.
Splashdown was “pretty much right on target,” a NASA spokesman said.
After delivering its cargo of more than 1,000 pounds of nonessential equipment, clothing and food to the space station after docking last week (May 25), Dragon demonstrated a new commercial capability that NASA has lacked since the end of the shuttle program last July: The ability to return cargo to Earth from the space station. SpaceX officials said they expect to deliver scientific experiments to NASA within 48 hours of splashdown. Other supplies will be delivered to the space agency once the spacecraft has been secured at a SpaceX facility in Texas.
The successful end of the first U.S. commercial cargo flight to the space station ushers in a new era of spaceflight that will allow NASA to shift its focus on deep space missions. SpaceX said earlier this week that its next Falcon 9 rocket has been delivered to Cape Canaveral for the next cargo flight to the space station later this year.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk again stressed after Dragon's successful splashdown that he was constantly aware during the mission of what could go wrong with the machine he designed. "When you see it all work, you're surprised," he said at post-mission briefing. The next step for SpaceX will be demonstrating that the "text book flight" can be repeated, Musk added.
What follows is a recap of Dragon’s first flight to the International Space Station.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo ship blasts off from Cape Canaveral on May 22. The first launch attempt was aborted days earlier when computers sensed a faulty valve in one of the Falcon 9's main engines.
The Dragon spacecraft secured on a barge after splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on Thursday (May 31). Dargon was first taken to Long Beach, Calif., to unload returning cargo. SpaceX will then transfer the spacecraft to its processing facility in McGregor, Texas, where it will be "safed."
On only its second return from orbit, SpaceX made the Dragon splashdown look easy. It even hit the water 10 minutes early. Next cargo mission to the space station could come as early as September. SpaceX now has a ton of data to sift through so that these cargo flights will eventually become routine. The big challenge now is making Dragon a safe, reliable way to get astronauts to the space station.
Pics were awesome.. earlier I used to watch some documentaries on Discovery channel but of late, haven't been watching. These pictures and your story has re-kindled my interest in this. Good work.. good to know its all real!
Brings back memories of watch the early mercury, gemini and apollo launches in the sixties and seventies. Why NASA threw the plans for the Apollo and Saturn V away I will never know, nor forgive.
Still, its nice to see the US return to space. Can't wait for the first manned mission. 1960's de ja vue.
As LBJ said, we expended all that effort and treasure to get to the moon, then we "p---ed it away."
Homer Hickam, who started his NASA career at the Marshall Spaceflight Center, told us that NASA literally destroyed the jigs and dies used to make the Saturn V rocket. What a waste. The good news is that SpaceX could still use an upgraded version of the Saturn V's second stage engine, the J2X, if and when it shifts to manned Dragon flights. So not all is lost.
Yes, it reminded me of the Gemini and Apollo flights where they had to jettison the service module before conducting the de-orbit burn. SpaceX was right on target with its splashdown off the California coast, and Elon Musk was bragging at the post-flight press conference that they are so confident of their guidance system that they believe they can land Dragon in "someone's backyard."
It makes me proud that the private space business has started and looks to be sustainable. Only with multiple successful missions will the dream really become a reality. I mourned the loss of NASA launch platform capacity and hope that we will once again, reach for the stars as a country.
On a day like this, it is feels great to be an engineer! Hats off to the Dragon team.
@Frank Eory: I hear you, I had only seen news reel videos (that were screened before the movies began in Indian theatres) of the Apollo program and this certainly brings back memories. I used to watch in wonder and awe when the Apollo crafts were plucked from the ocean and never knew that one day I would be living and working in a country that produced such great feats.
I applaud this successful venture for two reasons. The first is that it has succeeded. The second is that it it is a good example of private/government cooperation. While Elon Musk needs to be commended so does NASA in becoming more of a partner with industry. Its Commercial Crew and Cargo program fits nicely with the SpaceX goals and tasks: http://www.nasa.gov/offices/c3po/home/
Yes, it's old technology. The goal here is to demonstrate a commercial capability that can reduce the cost of getting to low-earth orbit as well as hauling cargo and crews to the space station. That's the new technology. Then NASA can work on technologies that are not 50 years old.
Hey Pres, if this tech was so retro, and so "EASY" to accomplish. How come N.Korea can't get their act together and get "EASIER" feats done. I am just saying, if it was so trivial shouldn't anyone with some spare change get to do it?
Congrats SpaceX team, you desearve a great accolades for your success!!!
These were great photos and an awesome success for SpaceX; I hope they are able to repeat it in the future many times to come. That said, I really wish we would learn to not "throw away" stuff like the "trunk equipment module". It takes a ton of energy to get that up there (not to mention all the energy it took down here just to manufacture it); it should be left up there in a stable orbit (or something), rather than letting it drift and eventually burn up in the atmosphere. We are literally throwing away potential raw materials and energy that we can't get anywhere else. That is a complete and avoidable waste, in my (admittedly layman's) opinion.
Quite right. If Elon Musk's so confident of landing the cargo module "in someone's back yard" he could at least land the trunk module in a recycling bin.
Now _that's_ something I'd pay money to see on YouTube.
Reusable rockets will definitely help us to make space tourism popular. I guess people are bored of visiting places on earth, a day will come when they will start visiting space-station or moon for their holidays.
Congratulations to the SpaceX team for a remarkable accomplishment. And a wish for many more.
It's great to see them succeed in something those spineless gray worms in Congress no longer have the political will to do.
I loved the differences between the SpaceX and NASA control rooms! NASA had the old familiar large box monitors and equipment while SpaceX had slim large LCD monitors. It looked like my boys had set up for a LAN party in a reception room at the local hotel. Very nice setup and great job SpaceX! I love to see space technology brought up to date (even if the module did have to splash down - it still worked and was very successful).