SpaceX Dragon capsule prepares for return to Earth on Thursday

Successful return could yield a $1.6 billion NASA contract

Headline Goes Here SpaceX

ORLANDO, Fla. - SpaceX's Dragon capsule is in its final full day berthed at the International Space Station before a planned departure, atmospheric re-entry and splashdown Thursday morning, as reported by Local 6 partner Florida Today.

The station crew closed the hatch on the first commercial spacecraft to visit the station around 9 a.m. Wednesday.

On Thursday, NASA astronaut Don Pettit will drive a robotic arm that pulls the unmanned Dragon from the Harmony node's Earth-facing port at 4:05 a.m. Eastern time.
The 58-foot arm is scheduled to release the capsule at 5:35 a.m.

Dragon will perform three thruster firings to move away from the station and set up a de-orbit burn at 10:51 a.m.

Before re-entering, the spacecraft will separate from the "trunk" holding its solar arrays.

The Dragon aims to splash down in the Pacific Ocean nearly 500 nautical miles southwest of Los Angeles.

Ships and aircraft will have eyes on the Dragon, but it wasn't immediately clear if live TV views would be available.

Recovery ships departed Monday evening. The primary recovery vessel is a 140-foot commercial ship operated by American Marine out of L.A.

Dragon launched its demonstration mission May 22 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and docked at the station last Friday.

Its successful return would enable SpaceX to begin regular station resupply runs under a $1.6 billion NASA contract.

Copyright 2012 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.