SpaceX's upgraded Dragon cargo spacecraft splashed down on Earth and off Florida's coast into the Atlantic Ocean at 8:26 PM EST on Wednesday.
This also marked the company's upgraded Dragon cargo spacecraft's first splashdown into the Atlantic.
The Dragon cargo spacecraft transported over 4,400 pounds (1,995 kg) of important scientific experiments, as well as other cargo, from the ISS to Earth.
Previous Dragon cargo missions have seen splashdowns into the Pacific Ocean, but this upgraded version of the Dragon cargo vessel was planned to touch back down into the Atlantic, closer to NASA's science processing Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Space.com reported.
Splashdown of Dragon confirmed, completing SpaceX’s 21st @Space_Station resupply mission and the first return of a cargo resupply spacecraft off the coast of Florida— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 14, 2021
Not only was the CRS-21 mission's upgraded vessel the first to land in the Atlantic, but it was also the first to autonomously dock and undock from the ISS. Other Cargo Dragon capsules have previously required astronauts to manually operate the ISS's robotic arm to grab and berth the spacecraft.
Moreover, SpaceX's upgraded cargo craft is built with double the powered locker space as older Dragon capsules, which means more scientific experiments can be transported to and back from the ISS. As NASA mentioned, some scientists will hold their returned experiments as soon as four to nine hours after splashdown, integral in keeping optimal microgravity conditions.
Welcome back to Kennedy Space Center! 🧬🦠🫀— NASA's Kennedy Space Center (@NASAKennedy) January 14, 2021
Time-critical research that was on the @SpaceX cargo Dragon has arrived to the Launch and Landing Facility. This short trip allows researchers to collect data with minimal loss of microgravity effects: https://t.co/sGRvtM9Fhb pic.twitter.com/mH3GwD06v4
Some of the returned ISS experiments include the Cardinal Heart research, which examines whether microgravity changes the heart, and Rodent Research-23, which observes how mice's eye structure changes pre- and post-spaceflight.