Mission CRS-3 accomplished: the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft has come back to Earth

The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft splashing down (Photo courtesy SpaceX. All rights reserved)
The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft splashing down (Photo courtesy SpaceX. All rights reserved)

A few hours ago the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft ended its CRS-3 (Cargo Resupply Service 3) mission on behalf of NASA smoothly splashing down into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California a few hours after leaving the International Space Station. Shortly after, the Dragon was recovered by SpaceX boats that will carry it to the coast. The cargo brought back to Earth will be delivered to NASA in the following hours. The Dragon spacecraft reached the International Space Station on April 18, 2014 .

The Dragon spacecraft carried to the Earth a cargo of nearly 1,600 kg (3,500 lbs), of which about 725 kg (about 1,600 lbs) are scientific experiments. Some biological samples were placed in the Dragon’s freezers and one of the most important checks concerns their proper maintenance at low temperatures. In many cases, an adequate analysis of the results of the experiments can’t be performed on the Station.

Those are sophisticated experiments in fields ranging from biology to physics and only on Earth there are the laboratories and personnel needed to analyze them. Some are really important because they concern medical problems such as the study of some drug-resistant bacteria, of which they studied the influence of microgravity in the Station. It’s a unique environment that’s used as a laboratory to better study certain biological phenomena.

After the launch of the Dragon spacecraft, the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket had made an experiment in controlled landing. In this case, it splashed down into the sea and the telemetry data showed that the experiment was successful. Unfortunately, the strong waves of that day destroyed the first stage before it could be recovered. The really important tests will be controlled landing on the ground.

The next mission of the Dragon spacecraft is scheduled for August 2014. As always, in these cases, it’s a tentative date and typically is delayed because there are more launches of cargo ships and other activities of the International Space Station that could have higher priority. The important thing is that SpaceX has now proved again to be able to run these missions.

SpaceX isn’t the only American company able to perform this type of mission anymore. Orbital Sciences, which is becoming Orbital ATK after a corporate merger, has successfully sent its Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station. However, the Dragon will remain for at least some time the only spacecraft able to carry intact cargo back to Earth.

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