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The American SpaceX company’s Dragon cargo capsule is heading back to Earth having
spent a week attached to the International Space Station (ISS). Built by commercial company Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), the Dragon capsule was detached from the space station by astronauts using the outpost’s robotic arm, which officially released the spacecraft at 5:49 a.m. EDT (0949 GMT). Dragon is the first private spacecraft ever to visit the $100 billion space station. The flight is a test mission under a NASA program aimed at supporting the development of new private space taxis to deliver cargo to orbit in the wake of the space shuttles’ retirement. The Dragon capsule is now due to fly back to Earth and splash down in the Pacific Ocean later this morning at 11:44 a.m. EDT (1544 GMT). The robotic capsule, which measures 14.4 feet tall (4.4 meters) and 12 feet wide (3.7 m), delivered 1,014 pounds (460 kilograms) of food, supplies and student-designed science experiments to the station. For the return trip, it is loaded with cargo as well, including 1,367 pounds (620 kg) of crew items, used hardware and completed experiments. Dragon spent a total of five days, 16 hours and 5 minutes attached to the International Space Station, after launching May 22 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The test flight was packed with demonstrations and trials for the new spacecraft, which previously flew only one mission to orbit in December 2010. Before being allowed to dock at the space station, Dragon capsule had to prove its navigation and communications systems were working as planned, and that it was able to receive and respond to commands from SpaceX as well as the astronauts onboard the station. Dragon capsule is rare among automated cargo craft in its ability to withstand re-entry to Earth. While those built by Russia, Japan and Europe are designed to burn up during re-entry, Dragon capsule is equipped with a heat shield to survive the fiery plunge, and parachutes to ease its ocean splash down. The capsule is due to be recovered by ships off the coast of Baja California, Mexico.
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