Dragon Sets History With Splashdown In Pacific
By Ed Pierce // May 31, 2012
Flight Nears Completion
BREVARD COUNTY • CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – The Space X Dragon spacecraft flew into the history books at 11:42 this morning, May 31, ending with a splashdown about 560 miles off the coast of Baja, California.
The unmanned Dragon, which became the first commercial spacecraft to carry cargo to the International Space Station last week, returned to Earth at 11:42 several minutes ahead of schedule.
With Space X founder Elon Musk watching from the front row of Space X mission control in Hawthorne, Calif., Dragon floated to Earth under three 160-foot red and white striped parachutes.
To re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, Dragon’s heat shield had to endure temperatures in excess of 3,000 degrees.
“Splashdown successful!! Sending fast boat to Dragon lat/long provided by P3 tracking planes,” Musk tweeted shortly after Dragon’s arrival back home.
NASA cleared Dragon to separate from the ISS and start its return to Earth yesterday morning, May 30.
Space X spokesman Kirstin Grantham said the company will put the history-making spacecraft on display at some point following its recovery.
Unlike many other unmanned spacecraft, Dragon will be protected on its flight home by something called the Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator, an advanced heat shield.
The crew of the International Space Station spent a good deal of time on Tuesday preparing the Dragon for re-entry.
ISS astronauts packing the Dragon with items for its return flight back to Earth.
The Dragon spacecraft delivered 1,014 pounds of non-critical cargo on its demonstration flight to the station.
Splashdown In Pacific Ocean
The unberthing procedure for Dragon from the ISS will be performed in reverse order of how the spacecraft was captured last Friday.
The ISS crew used the space station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to detach the vehicle from the Earth-facing port of the station’s Harmony node at 4:05 a.m. today and released it at 5:35 a.m. to return to Earth.
The Space X mission control team in Hawthorne, Calif., will run Dragon through about five hours of orbital operations before commanding it to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean using its Draco engines.
A team of recovery vessels picked up the Dragon and it will be flown to a Space X site in Texas for post-flight analysis.
Dragon was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Station May 22 aboard a Space X Falcon 9 rocket.