SpaceX technicians offloaded a Dragon cargo capsule from its recovery ship Thursday after returning the thrice-flown supply freighter to the Port of Los Angeles, marking the final planned return of a Dragon spacecraft to the West Coast.
The cargo vehicle splashed down Tuesday, April 7, under parachutes in the Pacific Ocean southwest of Los Angeles to wrap up a nearly 32-day mission to the International Space Station.
Splashdown occurred at 2:50 p.m. EDT (11:50 a.m. PDT; 1850 GMT) Thursday, bringing home more than 4,000 pounds of scientific experiments and other equipment, according to NASA.
The Dragon capsule was released from the space station’s robotic arm nearly six hours before splashdown. The spaceship launched March 6 from Cape Canaveral aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and arrived at the station March 9 with ,358 pounds (1,977 kilograms) of cargo and experiments.
The specimens packed inside the Dragon spacecraft for Tuesday’s return to Earth included live mice, plant cells grown on the space station, and an array of other biological and pharmaceutical research experiments.
The splashdown marked the end of the third flight of this particular Dragon capsule, and the final mission under a 20-flight Cargo Resupply Services contact between SpaceX and NASA.
The end of the Dragon mission Tuesday also signaled the transition to SpaceX’x next CRS contract with NASA. SpaceX’s next series of cargo missions will use a new Dragon spacecraft design known as the Dragon 2. Cargo flights to the space station using the Dragon 2 spacecraft are scheduled to begin in late October, and they will return to splashdowns in the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida.
Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of build and flight reliability, said last month some of the company’s inventory of Dragon capsules that have flown in orbit could be displayed in museums. The Dragon capsule was the first commercial ship to fly to the space station.
Read our full story on the splashdown for more details.
Email the author.
Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.