SpaceX private cargo vessel Dragon heads home | News | DW | 31.05.2012
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SpaceX private cargo vessel Dragon heads home

The US company SpaceX's Dragon cargo carrier has been released from the International Space Station at the start of its return to Earth. The historic mission is being viewed as a success so far.

Space station astronauts detached the capsule from its berthing port using a robotic arm on Thursday morning, as the craft orbited roughly 400 kilometers (250 miles) above Earth.

"Dragon is free from the International Space Station," a NASA TV spokesman said, as a live video feed showed the capsule floating above Earth.

"An extremely successful joint mission between the space station and Dragon... is coming to a close now," the spokesman as the spacecraft drifted apart. "Everything looks good."

In this image provided by NASA with clouds and land forming a backdrop, the SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is grappled by the Canadarm2 robotic arm at the International Space Station

Next stop: the Pacific Ocean

The Dragon, a private unmanned cargo vessel, went on to ignite its engines to push it back towards the Earth's atmosphere. The capsule was scheduled to splashdown intact in the Pacific Ocean, some 900 kilometers southwest of Los Angeles.

Dragon has made history as the first commercial cargo ship to carry supplies to the orbiting research lab, known in short as the ISS. The step has been hailed by some US officials as the beginning of a new era in private space flight.

The Dragon was launched on May 22, carrying 521 kilograms of food, supplies, computers, utilities and research equipment. It was to return to Earth carrying a 660-kilogram load.

SpaceX is one of two companies that NASA is using to deliver cargo to the station after the agency's space shuttles were retired from service last year.

rc/msh (AP,AFP, Reuters)