How SpaceX saved the Dragon capsule from destruction

On March 1, SpaceX ran a test launch of Dragon, the capsule in which it hopes to someday transport human beings into space. Dragon was due to connect with the International Space Station, but very quickly into the launch things started to go all wrong. This is a short summary of the SpaceX team managed to stop their capsule from tumbling out of control.

SpaceX Dragon spacecraft successfully attaches to ISS

For the second time in 2012, a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft has connected with the International Space Station. ISS expedition 33 crew members Akihiko Hoshide and Sunita Williams grappled Dragon and attached it to the station, completing a critical stage of the SpaceX CRS-1 cargo resupply mission.

With a splash, the (SpaceX) Dragon has landed

The first picture of the Dragon spacecraft as it floats in the ocean awaiting recovery ships. (SpaceX)

At 8:42AM Pacific/11:42 AM Eastern this morning, SpaceX completed an historic mission as the business end of the Dragon capsule splashed down safely in the Pacific ocean, to be recovered by boats and head for land. From the SpaceX announcement:

Last week, SpaceX made history when its Dragon spacecraft became the first commercial vehicle in history to successfully attach to the International Space Station. Previously only four governments – the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency – had achieved this challenging technical feat. Dragon departed the space station this morning. This is SpaceX's second demonstration flight under a 2006 Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement with NASA to develop the capability to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station.

More analysis in this previous BB post from this morning's event.

SpaceX Dragon takes fiery ride from ISS back to Earth today

Watch live streaming video from spaceflightnow at livestream.com

UPDATE: The SpaceX Dragon successfully splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 1042AM ET. History made, with the first commercially-built and operated space flight to the International Space Station now successfully completed.


Six days after it berthed with the International Space Station on an historic mission to prove that it could, the SpaceX Dragon vehicle left the ISS today and is now headed back toward our planet. SpaceFlightNow has live streaming video coverage:

The resupply craft was released from the robotic arm at 5:49 a.m. EDT (0949 GMT) and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean is scheduled for 11:44 a.m. EDT (1544 GMT).

NASA has a HD video feed here, if you prefer.

Artist’s rendition of Dragon spacecraft returning to Earth like a burning meteor. (SpaceX)

Space journalist Miles O'Brien spoke with CNN earlier this morning about the day's significance. On his blog, Miles writes:

With the shuttle fleet pickled, chocked and either in – or on their way to museums, Dragon is the only vehicle designed to haul cargo back to Earth in tact. Freighters from Russian, Europe and Japan are more like trash incinerators – as they do not have heat shields and parachutes designed to insure a safe landing.

Dragon is carrying just shy of 1400 pounds of cargo. More than it hauled up.

On board, about 300 pounds of crew preference items (lots of mementoes for friends and family), 200 pounds worth of scientific experiments, and nearly 800 pounds of station gear including a pump for the station urine recycling system (yes, they drink their own pee up there…).

Dragon will re-enter the atmosphere like a streaking meteor – as its ablative heat shield burns away - protecting the spacecraft from the searing heat.

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