March 26, 2013
A Space Exploration Technologies’ Dragon cargo capsule flew away from the International Space Station on Tuesday, loaded with experiment samples and gear for return to Earth.
Splashdown in the Pacific Ocean west of Mexico’s Baja California is slated for 12:34 p.m. EDT (1634 GMT).
Using the station’s 58-foot long (18-meter) robotic arm, astronauts aboard the station plucked Dragon from its berthing port and released it into orbit at 6:56 a.m. EDT (1056 GMT) as the ships sailed 252 miles (406 km) above the planet south of Australia.
Flight controllers with privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX as the company is known, then stepped in and remotely commanded Dragon to fire its steering thrusters to leave the station’s orbit.
“It looks beautiful from here,” station flight engineer Thomas Marshburn radioed to Mission Control in Houston as the capsule flew away.
“Sad to see the Dragon go. Performed her job beautifully, heading back to her lair. Wish her all the best for the splashdown today,” Marshburn said.
The Dragon cargo ship reached the station on March 3 with more than 2,300 pounds (1,043 kg) of science equipment, spare parts, food and supplies. It was the second of 12 planned cargo runs for NASA under a $1.6 billion contract. A second freighter, built and operated by Orbital Sciences Corp (NYSE:ORB) is expected to debut this year.
The U.S. space agency hired both firms to fill the gap left by the retirement of its space shuttle fleet in 2011.
Dragon’s arrival was delayed a day while SpaceX engineers grappled with a thruster pod problem that had threatened to derail the mission.