WASHINGTON, March 26 (RIA Novosti) - A private SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule, commissioned by the US space agency NASA, splashed down Tuesday in the Pacific Ocean after spending three weeks docked to the International Space Station (ISS) where it dropped off and picked up supplies.
“Sad to see the Dragon go," NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn said from inside the ISS Tuesday as the unmanned spacecraft began its journey back to Earth. "She performed her job beautifully, now heading back to her lair."
The Dragon capsule was released from the space station Tuesday just before 7:00 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) and splashed down about 214 miles (344 kilometers) off the coast of Baja, California at 12:34 p.m. EDT (1634 GMT).
The unmanned capsule returned to earth with about 2,670 pounds (1,211 kg) of cargo and scientific equipment, including a set of LEGO toys that have been on the ISS for the last two years. The equipment and supplies will be returned to NASA after recovery teams retrieve the capsule from the ocean, bringing it to land.
The current mission launched on March 1 and carried 1,212 pounds (550 kilograms) of supplies and equipment to the ISS.
SpaceX, the California-based private spaceflight firm, has successfully completed two of a dozen scheduled missions to the ISS under its current contract with NASA. The US space agency reportedly paid SpaceX $1.6 billion for 12 trips to the ISS.
Currently, the Dragon is the only reusable operating cargo vessel that can bring supplies back to Earth as well as deliver them to astronauts in low-Earth orbit. Russia's Progress spacecraft, Europe's Automated Transfer Vehicles and Japan's H-2 Transfer Vehicles burn up upon re-entry into the planet's atmosphere, Space.com reported.
Due to the retirement of NASA's space shuttle fleet in 2011, NASA has relied heavily on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the space station, sparking interest from private groups like SpaceX, to create alternative forms of transportation to the ISS.
Dragon’s third mission to the ISS is slated for this fall.