The SpaceX Dragon cargo ship that flew to the International Space Station (ISS) on December 5, 2018, has finally come home. The Dragon capsule returned to Earth with a splash — quite literally — after acing an ocean landing in the early hours of Monday morning.
Launched on SpaceX’s 16th resupply mission to the ISS, or CRS-16, the cargo vessel has spent the last 36 days docked with the station’s Harmony module.
Dragon was originally scheduled to return home on January 10. However, its stay at the orbital research facility was prolonged for a few days due to unfavorable weather at the landing site, the Inquisitr reported at the time.
The capsule eventually left the space station on January 13. After a second delay occurred on the same day, when the operation was pushed back three hours — also on account of bad weather — the spacecraft was finally released by the ISS’ Canadarm2 robotic arm at 6:33 p.m. EST, NASA announced in a blog post.
“Farewell Dragon!” Expedition 58 astronaut David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency wrote on Twitter. “Canadarm2 just released SpaceX-16 capsule, returning experiments to scientists around the world.”
Splashdown After Midnight
Following a six-hour journey to Earth, the Dragon capsule plunged through the planet’s atmosphere and parachuted to its designated landing site. The spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean just west of Baja, California, a few minutes after midnight.
According to Space, the cargo vessel was initially slated to land at 12.14 a.m. EST. But, based on the splashdown confirmation time, as announced on Twitter by SpaceX, Dragon arrived home two minutes earlier than expected.
Dragon returned home last night after its five-week stay at the @Space_Station, completing SpaceX’s sixteenth flight to and from the orbiting laboratory. The ISS badge signifies this Dragon’s previous trip to the station in 2017. pic.twitter.com/afdPtd0iHJ
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 14, 2019
First Nighttime Recovery Operation For SpaceX
Once the cargo ship made it back to Earth, SpaceX teams rushed to tow it to port in southern California. This was the company’s first nighttime splashdown and recovery of a Dragon capsule, NASA noted in the blog post.
After launching to the ISS with 5,600 pounds of supplies and science gear, Dragon did not come home empty-handed. The spacecraft brought home about two tons of cargo and scientific experiments, SpaceX wrote in a CRS-16 mission update.
“The commercial cargo vessel is taking home a variety of critical space research that will immediately be picked up by NASA engineers and distributed to scientists across the nation,” stated NASA officials. “Station hardware will also be extracted for analysis, refurbishment or discarding.”
According to SpaceX, this was the second mission to the ISS for this particular Dragon capsule. The same spacecraft launched to the space station in February 2017, during the company’s 10th resupply mission (CRS-10) to the astronauts on board the orbiting laboratory.
Emergency Drill For The Astronaut Crew
With the Dragon spacecraft safely back on Earth, the crew of the ISS resumed their regular science and maintenance activities. The astronauts started Tuesday with a simulated emergency exercise, then moved on their assigned tasks for today, NASA detailed in a new blog post.
“The unlikely emergency scenarios the crew trains for include events such as depressurization, ammonia leaks, and fires,” noted space agency officials.
“Responses include quickly donning safety gear, closing a module hatch to isolate pressure and ammonia leaks, extinguishing a fire, and evacuating the station aboard the Soyuz crew ship.”