Station cargo ship brings science down to Earth

A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship loaded with 4,100 pounds of experiment samples, trash and no-longer-needed equipment departed the International Space Station early Saturday and returned to Earth. It splashed down in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California to close out a 29-day stay in orbit.

The automated Dragon capsule was detached from the Earth-facing port of the station’s forward Harmony module Friday and released by the lab’s robot arm at 4:58 a.m. ET Saturday. After moving a safe distance away, the spacecraft’s thrusters fired at 9:43 a.m., lowering the far side of the orbit deep into the atmosphere.

After enduring the blazing heat of re-entry, the Dragon’s parachutes unfurled and the spacecraft settled to on on-target splashdown west of Baja at 10:37 a.m. It was the capsule’s second flight to and from the station and SpaceX’s 13th operational resupply flight overall.

A SpaceX recovery crew was standing by in the landing zone to collect the cargo craft and haul it back to Long Beach, Calif., where high-priority science samples will be removed and delivered to researchers. The Dragon then will be shipped to SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas, test facility for final processing.

Launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Dec. 15, the Dragon carried 1,000 pounds of crew supplies to the station and nearly 2,900 pounds of science material, spacewalk equipment, space station hardware and computer components.

Mounted in an unpressurized “trunk” section were two external science packages, one to measure how much solar radiation Earth receives and another to help characterize the space debris environment.

After it was attached to Harmony, the station crew unpacked the cargo and replaced it with trash and other no-longer-needed gear, along with high-priority biological…

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