Cape Canaveral, Florida: SpaceX Dragon, world`s first commercial supply ship splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Thursday, nine days after its historic launch to the International Space Station (ISS).
The unmanned Dragon plunged down about 560 miles west of Baja California at 11:42 a.m. EDT into the Pacific Ocean just like NASA`s old-time capsules.
At the ISS, in Thursday`s operation, astronaut Donald Pettit and his crewmates closed the hatch to the SpaceX Dragon and disconnected cables, after packing it with 1,400 pounds of experiments and old equipment for the ride back.
The California-based SpaceX — Space Exploration Technologies Corp. — is the first private business to launch a spacecraft into the orbiting complex.
NASA wants to use Dragons to restock the station`s pantry and return items like the space shuttles did until their retirement last summer. Other companies are also developing spacecraft for cargo and crews.
The plan set forth by President Barack Obama would have Dragons and other commercial craft ferrying station astronauts back and forth in the years ahead, setting NASA free to concentrate on expeditions farther afield, like asteroids and Mars.
SpaceX chief Elon Musk, the billionaire who helped create PayPal, said he can have crews flying his Dragons in three or four years.
None of the other visiting supply ships — the property of Russia, Europe and Japan — can return safely to Earth. They burn up in the atmosphere and consequently carry merely trash.
Only one Dragon has flown back from orbit before, during SpaceX`s 2010 test flight.
The next Dragon launch, meanwhile, is targeted for September. The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for the flight already is at Cape Canaveral.