SpaceX’s Dragon vehicle became the private spacecraft to return to Earth from space for the second time. The uncrewed capsule, launched in early June after having been used back in September 2014, made its return to Earth and splashed down into the Pacific Ocean after delivering a shipment of new supplies and resources to the International Space Station.
Before Monday, no other privately-owned craft had gone to the ISS and returned to the Earth more than once — all other non-SpaceX vehicles had burned up in the atmosphere. The Elon Musk-led company has recently begun recovering Dragon capsules in order to allow the return of essential scientific equipment and data, but this is the first time one of those recovered Drago capsules has been sent back to the ISS, and recovered again.
NASA astronaut Jeff Fischer, currently aboard the ISS, was incredibly enthusiastic about the return. “I could even say it was slathered in awesome sauce,” he told mission control in Houston. “This baby has had almost no problems, which is an incredible feat considering it’s the first reuse of a Dragon vehicle…And the science we’ve done — oh my, the science. Most of the 6,000 pounds of cargo carried was science, and almost all the return cargo are precious samples for discoveries we can’t wait to see.”
That science includes tissue samples from rodents sent to the space station to allow scientists to learn the effectiveness of new drugs designed to combat osteoporosis. NASA and other space agencies are trying to figure out how to allow humans to spend longer durations in space without suffering from extremely rapid and dangerous bone density loss.
Here’s what the splashdown looked like:
And here’s what the aftermath was. It’s toasted like a marshmallow, but reentry from space will do that to you.
The company is launching another Falcon 9 rocket at 7:36 p.m. Eastern on Monday from Kennedy Space Center, which will carry a Boeing Intelsat 35e communications station into orbit. (The launch was aborted on Sunday.) Just don’t expect a droneship landing after Monday’s launch.