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NASA takes custody of cargo returned inside Dragon

Posted: June 15, 2012

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During a ceremony inside a Texas warehouse on Wednesday, SpaceX turned over to NASA more than a half-ton of cargo returned from the International Space Station during last month's commercial resupply mission.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and SpaceX founder Elon Musk speak in Texas in front of the Dragon spacecraft which returned to Earth on May 31. Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
The handover was the flight's final objective, and it occurred 13 days after the privately-owned Dragon spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at the end of a nine-day mission.

The Dragon capsule spent six days attached to the International Space Station, and the lab's astronauts unloaded more than 1,000 pounds of supplies from the spacecraft. The space station crew installed nearly 1,400 pounds of equipment back inside Dragon's pressurized cabin for return to Earth.

With the exception of a few time-critical cargo bags removed while Dragon was still at sea, NASA took receipt of the hardware returned from the space station Wednesday at SpaceX's rocket test facility in McGregor, Texas.

The Dragon spacecraft arrived in McGregor last week, and technicians emptied the capsule's cargo section Tuesday. On Wednesday, the cargo containers were stacked inside a climate-controlled clean room awaiting a road trip to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston later in the week.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk spoke to the company's 150 employees based in McGregor on Wednesday.

"You've swung the door wide open when you completed the successful Dragon mission last month," Bolden said. "As soon as everybody finishes the evaluation of data, hopefully you will start earning some real money providing a service to the International Space Station."

Cargo returned from the International Space Station was removed from the Dragon spacecraft this week. Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract for 12 cargo resupply missions to the space station through 2015. Last month's Dragon mission was a test flight required by NASA to ensure SpaceX is ready for deliveries of vital hardware, experiments, spare parts and supplies to the complex in the future.

NASA expects to give formal approval in the next few weeks for the first of the dozen operational flights. Liftoff from Florida aboard a Falcon 9 rocket is penciled in the space station manifest for Sept. 24.

All of the cargo carried to and returned from the station in May was deemed by NASA to be expendable in case the test flight did not go as planned.

The 1,367 pounds of equipment inside Dragon at splashdown included astronauts' personal items, used experiment hardware, broken parts, and old spacesuit components.

Purged of hazardous propellant and safed for the public, the 14.4-foot-tall Dragon spacecraft sat in the corner of a SpaceX workshop in McGregor, a rural Central Texas community located between Dallas and Austin.

One side of the spacecraft appeared blackened from the heat of re-entry, which reached a scorching 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Dragon's robust heat shield took the brunt of the heat as the capsule fell back into the atmosphere.

"This is our baby and it's just back from space," Musk told employees and reporters. "I feel like a proud father."