SpaceX completes first commercial cargo mission

The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft has made it safely back to Earth, completing the first ever commercial cargo mission to the International Space Station.

The ship spashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 3:22 pm EDT yesterday, about 250 miles off the coast of Baja California.

The Dragon capsule itself is now on its way to Los Angeles, where it will be prepared for a return journey to SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas, for processing.

“This historic mission signifies the restoration of America’s ability to deliver and return critical space station cargo,” says SpaceX CEO and chief technical officer Elon Musk. “The reliability of SpaceX’s technology and the strength of our partnership with NASA provide a strong foundation for future missions and achievements to come.”

Some cargo – including blood samples from ISS astronauts – is already on its way to NASA, which hopes to learn more about the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the human body. The rest will go back to Texas with the capsule.

The return journey went without a hitch, with the station’s robotic arm uninstalling Dragon from the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node at 7:19 am. The ship had been coupled to the station since Oct 10.

Dragon delivered 882 pounds of supplies to the orbiting laboratory, including 260 pounds of crew supplies, 390 pounds of scientific research and 225 pounds of hardware. It brought back around twice as much, including 163 pounds of crew supplies, 866 pounds of scientific research and 518 pounds of hardware.

There was a slight problem with the launch, when the engine experienced a rapid loss of pressure and Falcon 9’s flight computer immediately commanded shutdown. SpaceX says it’s still working to find out the reason.

The mission was the first of at least 12 SpaceX cargo resupply missions to the space station between now and 2016 under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract.