The privately owned SpaceX Dragon fired its engines for the last time Tuesday at 11:42 a.m. EDT – sending it through the Earth’s atmosphere for a spectacular splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 12:34 p.m.
A team of SpaceX engineers, technicians and divers are currently working to recover the vehicle off the coast of Baja, California, for the journey back to shore which will take about 30 hours.
Dragon’s release from the International Space Station (ISS) occurred at 6:56 a.m., after ground controllers sent commands to unberth Dragon from the Harmony node at 4:10 a.m. EDT.
Dragon’s return date, originally scheduled for March 25, was postponed due to inclement weather developing near its targeted splashdown site in the Pacific Ocean.
The Dragon spacecraft launched atop the Falcon 9 rocket on the SpaceX-2 commercial resupply mission March 1 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Two days later Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn captured the Dragon just 32 feet away from the station with the Canadarm2. Ground controllers then took over Canadarm2 operations and berthed Dragon to the Harmony node.
Hatches to the commercial cargo craft were opened about four hours later, kicking off three weeks of cargo transfer activities. Station crew members swapped 1,200 pounds of cargo delivered to the station with 2,600 pounds of gear to be returned to Earth.
Experiment gear and space hardware were delivered for NASA and its Russian, Canadian, European and Japanese space station partners. Over twice as much gear was returned including trash, station hardware and biological samples collected and stored in freezers during the course of research for analysis on the ground.
It should be noted that a third SpaceX commercial resupply services mission remains on track to launch at the end of September.