SpaceX Capsule Cleared To Leave Space Station and Head Back To Earth

Artist's rendition of the Dragon spacecraft as it returns to earth like a burning comet. Credit: SpaceX
The first private spaceship to visit the International Space Station will attempt to return to earth tomorrow. Astronauts have loaded the Dragon capsule with cargo to bring back to Earth, and are preparing to release the unmanned vehicle about 4:30 tomorrow morning.

So far, the Dragon capsule has performed as expected.

But when it plunges back into Earth’s atmosphere, it will experience temperatures as high as 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s why NASA hasn’t put anything really important onboard.

Holly Ridings is Flight Director for NASA:

“Because this is the test flight, specifically the program made sure there’s not anything coming home that we couldn’t afford to not get back.”

If all goes well, the Dragon capsule will splash down in the Pacific about 550 miles southwest of Los Angeles.

It will then be transported to a SpaceX facility in McGregor, near Waco, and the cargo sent on to Johnson Space Center here in Houston.

SpaceX Mission Manager John Couluris says the Dragon’s journey from space station to splash-down should take about five and a half hours.

 “It’s important to note we have a lot ahead of us on the SpaceX side. Once we leave integrated space with NASA, we still have the entire re-entry to perform. We’re really looking forward to it, we’ve done it once, but it’s still a very challenging phase of flight. And only a few countries have done this before, so we’re not taking this lightly at all.”

Couluris says even if re-entry fails, the mission should count as a major success in the ongoing cargo contract with NASA.

“The ability to get to space station on our first time, to not only rendezvous but then to berth, transfer cargo, and depart safely are major mission objectives. We would call that mission alone a success.”

The splashdown is expected at 10:44 a.m. Central Time.

From the KUHF Health and Science Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.

 

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...