Unmanned spacecraft splashes down after successful mission

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By Bob Duncan
 
The Space X Dragon unmanned cargo capsule has returned safely to earth after its rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS).
 
The capsule splashed down at 16:42 BST in the Pacific Ocean around 900km from the Baha Peninsula of California.  Fast boats were already at the splashdown zone, and were sent to pick it up.

By Bob Duncan
 
The Space X Dragon unmanned cargo capsule has returned safely to earth after its rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS).
 
The capsule splashed down at 16:42 BST in the Pacific Ocean around 900km from the Baha Peninsula of California.  Fast boats were already at the splashdown zone, and were sent to pick it up.

The capsule had been launched last Thursday from Cape Canaveral in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Astronauts aboard the ISS helped the berthing operation by reaching out with the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to grab the spacecraft so it could latch on to the Harmony module of the station.

The Dragon capsule had successfully completed a fly-under of the ISS at a distance of 2.4 kilometres (1.5 miles) as well as several other manoeuvres to lay the groundwork for the berthing attempt.

They included an abort demonstration, communications tests, navigation by global positioning system (GPS) technology alone, and a “free-drift demonstration,” whereby the capsule’s thrusters were all shut down, as they need to be prior to being grappled by the space station’s robotic arm.

The Dragon was released again on Thursday to begin its journey home.

The successful mission marked the first time a commercial enterprise has sent its own craft to the orbiting lab and opened what NASA, the White House and SpaceX officials described as a “new era” in space flight.

The mission was intended as a demonstration of the freight service SpaceX plans to run to the platform. It took half a tonne of food and supplies up to the ISS astronauts, and brought down about two-thirds of a tonne of completed experiments and redundant equipment.

California-based SpaceX hopes that its Dragon capsule will be able to carry astronauts to the ISS in about three years’ time. SpaceX is working on life-support systems which would allow up to seven astronauts to be ferried to and from the ISS, creating the world’s first space taxi service.

“After this mission we are on contract for at least 12 more missions to the International Space Station,” said mission director John Couluris of SpaceX, noting that while Japan and Europe can carry supplies to the ISS, only Russia can carry passengers or return cargo to Earth.

“So we are looking to provide regular services … at a faster rate than some of the other vehicles.”

The flight was also historic for a completely different reason;

When Canadian actor James Doohan died in 2005, the man who played Star Trek‘s engineer Scotty for nearly 40 years had one request: That his ashes be launched into space.

For this mission, the Falcon 9 rocket not only carried the Dragon spacecraft, but according to Billionaire SpaceX Founder and CEO Elon Musk, it also had the ashes of ‘Scotty’ packed somewhere inside the rocket.

Gaun yersel, Scotty.