A SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft loaded with nearly two tons of critical NASA science and technology experiments and equipment returned to Earth this afternoon, Wednesday, May 11, safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean – and bringing about a successful conclusion to its mission to the International Space Station (ISS) that also brought aloft a new room for the resident crew.
Following a month long stay at the orbiting outpost, Dragon was released from the grip of the stations Canadian-built robotic arm at 9:19 a.m. EDT by European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Tim Peake.
After being detached from its berthing port at the Earth-facing port on the stations Harmony module by ground controllers, Peake commanded the snares at the terminus of the 57 foot long (19 meter long) Canadarm2 to open – as the station was soaring some 260 miles (418 kilometers) over the coast of Australia southwest of Adelaide.
Dragon backed away and soon departed after executing a series of departure burns and maneuvers to move beyond the 656-foot (200-meter) “keep out sphere” around the station.
“The Dragon spacecraft has served us well, and it’s good to see it departing full of science, and we wish it a safe recovery back to planet Earth,” Peake said.
Dragon fired its braking thrusters to initiate reentry back into the Earth’s atmosphere, and survived the scorching temperatures for the plummet back home.
A few hours after departing the ISS, Dragon splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 2:51 p.m. EDT today, about 261 miles southwest of Long Beach, California.
It was loaded with more than 3,700 pounds of NASA cargo, science and technology demonstration samples including a final batch of human research samples from former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s historic one-year mission that concluded in March.
“Thanks @SpaceX for getting our science safely back to Earth! Very important research,” tweeted Kelly soon after the ocean splashdown.
Among the study samples returned are those involving Biochemical Profile, Cardio Ox, Fluid Shifts, Microbiome, Salivary Markers and the Twins Study.
The goal of Kelly’s one-year mission was to support NASA’s plans for a human ‘Journey to mars’ in the 2030s. Now back on the ground Kelly continues to support the studies as a human guinea pig providing additional samples to learn how the human body adjusts to weightlessness, isolation, radiation and the stress of long-duration spaceflight.
Dragon was plucked from the ocean by ship and is now on its way to Long Beach, California.
“Some cargo will be removed and returned to NASA, and then be prepared for shipment to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing,” says NASA.
The Dragon CRS-8 cargo delivery mission began with a spectacular blastoff atop an upgraded version of the two stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, boasting over 1.5 million pounds of thrust on Friday, April 8 at 4:43 p.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The primary goal of the Falcon 9 launch was carrying the SpaceX Dragon CRS-8 cargo freighter to low Earth orbit on a commercial resupply delivery mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS).
Relive the launch via this video of the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon CRS-8 liftoff from my video camera placed at the pad:
Video Caption: Spectacular blastoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Dragon CRS-8 cargo freighter bound for the International Space Station (ISS) from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL at 4:43 p.m. EST on April 8, 2016. Up close movie captured by Mobius remote video camera placed at launch pad. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The SpaceX commercial cargo freighter was jam packed with more than three and a half tons of research experiments, essential crew supplies and a new experimental inflatable habitat for it deliver run.
After a two day orbital chase it reached the ISS and the gleeful multinational crew of six astronauts and cosmonauts on Sunday, April 10.
Expedition 47 crew members Jeff Williams and Tim Kopra of NASA, Tim Peake of ESA (European Space Agency) and cosmonauts Yuri Malenchenko, Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos are currently living aboard the orbiting laboratory.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.
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