SpaceX Dragon CRS-1 Capsule Scores Safe Splashdown

SpaceX’s Dragon CRS-1 capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja, Calif., Sunday afternoon, cementing a commercial version of the U.S. cargo launch-and-return capability with the International Space Station that was lost as NASA’s shuttle program retired in mid-2011.

Recovery ships from Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX were on station as Dragon settled onto the ocean waters under parachute about 250 miles west of Baja at 3:22 p.m., EDT, the company reported.

Dragon, with a 1,600-pound cargo that included nearly 500 frozen biomedical specimens collected since the July 2011, departed the six person space station on Sunday at 9:26 a.m., EDT.

“It was nice while she was on board,” said NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who along with Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide released the freighter from the tip of the station’s 58-foot-long Canadian robot arm. “Congratulations, Hawthorne.”

The capsule will be off-loaded from its recovery ship in Los Angeles and transported to SpaceX proving grounds in McGregor, Tex., for further de-manifesting.

The medical specimens will fly independently from California to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Tex., for distribution to scientists. Frozen blood and urine samples will provide a record of metabolic changes in astronauts during long duration spaceflight.

The CRS-1 mission was the first for SpaceX under a $1.6 billion, 12-flight agreement signed with NASA in late 2008 for space station re-supply and cargo return.

The Falcon 9 carrying the Dragon lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., late on Oct. 7.  Dragon rendezvoused with the station three days later, inching close enough for Hoshide and Williams to track and capture the freighter with the robot arm.

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