Dragon capsule returns to Earth with space gifts

SpaceX's capsule splashed down in the Pacific this morning, with science experiments, including live mice, and equipment inside.

SpaceX’s spacecraft Dragon splashed down into the the Pacific Friday morning, just off Mexico's Baja California coast. On board the capsule were 3,000 pounds of scientific research and equipment delivered back to Earth from the International Space Station.

"Good splashdown of Dragon confirmed," SpaceX reported via Twitter, as its employees readied to retrieve the capsule, which also had 12 mice onboard.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, who joined the space station crew in July, along with Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi, released the capsule into space at 6:11 a.m. Eastern time by using the station's robotic arm, as Space.com reports. The space laboratory was orbiting over Australia at the time. Dragon had to float a safe distance away from the station before it could ignite the engines that would allow it to leave orbit to travel safely back to Earth.

The Dragon spacecraft originally arrived at the space station on July 20, with science experiments and supplies for the six international crew members living and working aboard. Among the experiments was one that tested how microgravity affects human heart cells; two rodent-based experiments studying how space affects organs, bones, and muscles; and one that analyzed the composition of microbes in the human digestive system.

Besides science, Dragon also delivered equipment that astronauts installed to prepare for private companies – such as SpaceX and Boeing – to begin crew delivery services in a year or two, a task that’s currently handled by the Russian space agency. Its Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only vehicle that can ferry crew members to the station.

Dr. Rubins, a cancer biologist who will be the first person to sequence DNA in space, worked with fellow NASA astronaut Jeff Williams to install the first of two International Docking Adapters during a spacewalk last week. The adapter will allow future spacecraft to dock directly with the US portal on the space station, instead of requiring the robotic arm to bring them in. The second adapter is under construction and will be delivered on a future Dragon cargo resupply mission, says NASA.

Dragon, owned by Elon Musk's aerospace company SpaceX, is "currently the only space station resupply spacecraft able to return a significant amount of cargo to Earth," say NASA officials.

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