After a couple days of delay due to rough seas, SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft is finally on its way back home to Earth with over 4,000 lbs of completed research and spare parts that can be used for other exploratory missions.
The craft spent over a month at the International Space Station where it brought research supplies to the ISS crew.
The Dragon was released from the ISS's robotic arm at 9:23 EDT largely thanks to Flight Engineer Scott Tingle, who monitored the separation and departure.
The Dragon had three separate thruster phases during its departure. All three further separated the Dragon craft from the ISS a safe distance before
All three departure burns were completed on time by the space crew. Once released from the ISS and outside the "neighborhood" of the craft, responsibility then went back to the SpaceX team in California.
SpaceX has become associated with some spectacular rocket launches in recent years, but today's return of the Dragon spacecraft marks another important test for the company. Can it succeed while carrying such a weighty load? The Hawthorne-based team will gain control to track and guide Dragon during the roughly 43-hour trek back down to Earth.
Currently, the Dragon craft is the only space station resupply craft capable of returning the cargo to earth. This was also the Dragon's second trip to the ISS, and it launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a previously used Falcon 9 rocket.
What's Coming Down with the Dragon?
The experiments coming back to Earth cover a wide variety of cargo. A couple of those experiments document how some creatures interact and deal with living in space. One particular experiment includes ISS-created habitats for mice. NASA wants to send up mice and rodents into space to see how their bodies are affected by living in outer space.
There's also the Fruit Fly Lab experiment that will return. The ISS team studied how fruit flies contain over 75 percent of human diseases. Thus, the Fruit Fly Lab-03 test was vital in understanding how space affected the fruit flies' immune systems. Once it gets back to Earth, this research could play a vital role in how astronauts can better prepare their immune systems for extended space missions. (Like those space missions to Mars, perhaps?)
However, one piece of returning cargo, in particular, is a bit bittersweet for those who kept up with its story. The Robonaut is being sent back home alongside the ISS team's other research projects. Robonaut is NASA's robotic crew member, and while he initially seemed like a great idea, he's been quite troublesome for the ISS team.
"Robonaut has had some issues with being able to power up on orbit and that's gone on for at least a year, maybe two. A lot of troubleshooting on orbit and a lot of analysis on the ground, they've concluded that there's a short of some sort in one of the circuit boards, and they're going to need to bring it home and repair it," said Pete Hasbrook, associate program scientist at for the ISS program.
NASA announced it would confirm when the Dragon craft has landed once SpaceX makes the announcement as well. The space agency did note that it would not livestream the deorbit burn and splashdown on its channel.
Via: NASA via YouTube