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SpaceX Dragon SPLASHDOWN in Pacific! Private space triumph

Commercial cargo ship returns from space station

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The SpaceX cargo capsule Dragon, first privately built ship to visit the International Space Station, has splashed down safely in the Pacific ocean at 10:42 Central Time after nine days in space.

The cargo capsule landed as planned 560 miles off the Californian coast, and rescue boats are already on their way to pull the capsule and its cargo of astro experiments and old space station gear out of the water. The splashdown time was two minutes ahead of schedule.

Astronauts on the International Space Station loaded Dragon up with cargo including space station equipment to be refurbed for later use and the results of several experiments into alloys that solidified at micro gravity.

SpaceX will use a 185ft (56.4m) working barge equipped with a crane, an 80ft (24.4m) crew boat, and two 25ft (7.6m) rigid hull inflatable boats to pick up the Dragon. About 12 SpaceX engineers and technicians as well as a four-person dive team will also be onboard.

The dragon capsule undocked from the International Space Station earlier this morning, nine days after its launch, after 5 days 16 hours at the International Space Station.

It will take two days to get Dragon back to harbour in California, then it will be taken to a SpaceX facility where the vehicle will be made safe and the cargo will be unloaded for onward transfer to Houston.

The Dragon is unique both in being privately built (as opposed to being made by a government space agency) and in being able to make unmanned return trips to the ISS. European ATV and Russian Progress supply vessels are one-shot only, having to be disposed of after delivering a cargo to the station.

SpaceX plans soon to deliver a manned Dragon, so restoring American manned-space capability and providing a competitor for Russian Soyuz ships, at present the only way to move crews to and from the orbiting outpost. ®

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