With a parachute-controlled Pacific splashdown reminiscent of the Apollo missions, SpaceX brought its Dragon capsule safely back down to Earth this morning. After taking off from Kennedy Space Center’s historic LC-39A, the very pad from which Apollo 11 took flight, on February 19, the capsule completed its mission in the wee hours of the morning and started its journey home.
At 4:11 a.m. EST, the crew of the International Space Station said goodbye to the SpaceX Dragon capsule that brought them almost 5,500 pounds of supplies last month. The capsule detached from the ISS to start its descent, loaded with almost as much cargo as it brought up there initially — more than 5,400 pounds (2,450 kg), according to NASA. At 4:24, the capsule completed three burns that brought it away from the space station, and at 9:17 a.m. Dragon completed its deorbit burn and jettisoned its bulky trunk. The initial drogue chutes deployed at 9:44 to slow and stabilize the speeding capsule, followed one minute later by the three main chutes to help it drift down to the sea.
At 9:48 a.m. EST, SpaceX confirmed that the capsule had splashed down safely, ending its month-long mission.
Dragon spent almost a month attached to the ISS. On its way up, it carried routine supplies for the astronauts — food and exercise equipment — as well as experiments and some new instruments for the space station.
These included the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE) III instrument, the Microgravity Growth of Crystalline Monoclonal Antibodies for Pharmaceutical Applications experiment, and the Raven module. The first, SAGE III, will help scientists monitor Earth’s ozone layer. The second one, which involves a monoclonal antibody from Merck Research Labs, is meant to help scientists better understand proteins in order to improve drug delivery. The Raven module is a particularly cool device that will help the ISS crew detect spacecrafts. In the future, this will make autonomous satellite repair possible.
On its return trip, Dragon carried scientific research samples, as well as old equipment.
“This cargo will include science samples from human and animal research, external payloads, biology and biotechnology studies, physical science investigations and education activities,” NASA announced in a statement a few days before the detachment.
In the next 48 hours, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) will distribute time-sensitive samples to the relevant researchers so they can begin their work on Dragon’s cargo.
Correction 3/19/17: In the original version of this article, it was stated that Dragon carried more weight in cargo back to Earth than it initially brought to the ISS. In fact, the opposite is true. The article has been edited to reflect that fact.