SpaceX Dragon CRS-1 Capsule Departs Space Station

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The SpaceX Dragon capsule is released from the Space Station's Canadian robot arm 255 miles above Myanmar on Sunday. Photo Credit: NASA TV

The SpaceX CRS-1 mission Dragon capsule departed the International Space Station Sunday at 9:29 a.m., EDT.; after four orbits of the Earth, the unpiloted capsule will aim for a splashdown and recovery in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja, Calif.

The capsule is carrying more than 1,600 pounds of return cargo, including nearly 500 frozen medical specimens as well as equipment in need of refurbishment for future re-flight to the 
six person orbiting science laboratory.

Dragon’s splashdown under parachute 250 miles west of Baja, Calif., is scheduled for about 3:20 p.m., EDT.

The CRS-1 flight is the first for SpaceX under a $1.6 billion, 12 flight agreement signed with NASA in late 2008, a mission that restores a U. S. capability to launch and return cargos to the station that was lost with the retirement of the long running  space shuttle program.

The medical specimens -- collected from station astronauts to record metabolic changes during long periods of weightlessness -- have been awaiting a ride back to Earth since July 2011, when NASA’s final shuttle crew departed.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Dragon lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., late on Oct. 7.  Dragon rendezvoused with the station three days later.

U.S. and Japanese astronauts Sunita Williams and Akihiko Hoshide, the same station crew members who captured Dragon as it rendezvoused on Oct. 10, released the commercial freighter from the grasp of the station’s Canadian robot arm on Sunday.

SpaceX recovery ships will be stationed in Pacific waters to hoist the Dragon freighter aboard following the splashdown.

In a departure from the Dragon demonstration mission flown under the sponsorship of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems program in May, the agency’s Mission Control team in Houston, rather than the astronauts, issued the robot arm commands that backed Dragon away from its berthing port on the Harmony module at 7:19 a.m., EDT.

Williams and Hoshide took over control of the 58 foot long arm for the actual release. The SpaceX control team in Hawthorne, Calif., assumed control of the mission’s final hours once
Dragon propelled itself beyond a virtual 200 meter “keep out” sphere surrounding the station in which multiple spacecraft activities are closely monitored by NASA to prevent a 
collision.

Dragon exited the KOS at 9:41 a.m., EDT.

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