SpaceX Dragon capsule splashes down in Pacific Ocean

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - A cargo-carrying SpaceX capsule splashed in the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday after a soaring send-off from the International Space Station.

With the Dragon spacecraft secured on the end of the station's 57-foot robotic arm, outpost commander Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency and U.S. astronaut Thomas Marshburn deployed the capsule at 6:56 a.m. EDT.

The two triggered the release from a control station in the complex's Cupola, a seven-window observation deck. The space station and the Dragon were flying about 252 miles above the southwest coast of Australia at the time.

"There goes Dragon away from the arm," said NASA mission commentator Josh Byerly.

"Looks both beautiful and nominal from here," Hadfield told engineers in the NASA Mission Control Center in Houston.

SpaceX flight controllers executed a series of three thruster firings, pushing the Dragon out of the station's immediate vicinity and onto a trajectory designed to lead to an 11:42 a.m. atmospheric re-entry.

Hadfield said the capsule's course was "rock solid."

SpaceX ships and recovery personnel are in place 214 miles off the coast of Baja California. The Dragon made a parachute-assisted splashdown at 12:34 p.m. EDT. The return had been scheduled for Monday but rough seas prompted a one-day delay.

The SpaceX fleet includes a 185-foot barge equipped with cranes to lift the spacecraft onto the vessel. A smaller crew boat carries engineers and a dive team. Two rigid-hull inflatable boats round out the fleet.

Launched March 1 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the Dragon reached the station two days later with more than a ton of supplies and equipment.

The capsule is returning to Earth with 2,668 pounds of experiment equipment and science samples.

SpaceX Dragon capsules are the only spacecraft capable of returning large amounts of cargo to Earth now that the U.S. shuttle fleet is retired. Other station resupply ships are filled with trash and deliberately incinerated during atmospheric reentry.

The Dragon should be returned to the Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday.

On Thursday, U.S. astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin are scheduled to blast off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Their six-hour flight to the outpost will mark the first same-day launch-to-docking at the International Space Station. Two-day trips have been the norm since the first expedition crew opened the orbiting laboratory complex in November 2000.

The three-man crew already onboard also includes Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko.

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