SpaceX Capsule Splashes Down After Successful Mission

By Amir Khan on May 31, 2012 12:44 PM EDT

SpaceX
U.S. President Barack Obama and Head of SpaceX Elon Musk (R) tour Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, April 15, 2010. (Photo: Reuters)

SpaceX's Dragon capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Thursday, putting an end to the first commercial space mission. SpaceX launched the capsule on May 22 to deliver supplies to the International Space Station -- the first time a commercial company has done so.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, reported the capsule's landing in a tweet saying ""Splashdown successful!!"

After the May 22 launch, the Dragon capsule docked with the ISS on Friday, when astronauts used a robotic arm to pull the capsule into the ISS's docking port. The astronauts entered the port the following day and gushed over its "new car smell," according to MSNBC.

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"What this mission really does is it heralds the dawn of a new era of space exploration, one where there is a significant commercial space element," SpaceX founder Elon Musk said after the Dragon capsule arrived at the space station May 25, according to CNET.

The crew unloaded over a half-ton worth of food, equipment and other supplies. The capsule disconnected from the ISS at 5:49 ET and began the process of reentering the planet. The capsule's engines slowed it to 224 mph (100 meters per second) in order for it to drop through the atmosphere. During reentry, the ship experienced heat in excess of 3,000 degrees Fahrenehit.

The ship officially touched down at 11:42 a.m. ET. NASA mission commentator Josh Byerly observed that the Dragon mission "ended like it began - which is fairly easily," according to MSNBC.

The mission opens up the door for a suite of other commercial missions, such as cargo deliveries and, eventually, manned missions.

The Dragon capsule is part of the 2006 Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) directive designed to coordinate supply and passenger delivery by private companies to the International Space Station. NASA signed agreements with three companies, but SpaceX is the closest to reaching the space station.

Orbital Sciences, another company that is a part of the COTS program, will launch its unmanned spacecraft for the first time later in 2012.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, said he hopes to bring astronauts aboard the Dragon capsule within the next few years, according to Forbes. SpaceX completed its first crew trial on Friday, demonstrating that the capsule could carry either seven crew members or 13,000 pounds (5,900 kilograms) of cargo safely.

NASA currently relies on Russian capsules to transport crew to the ISS

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