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SpaceX Dragon as seen from ISS
The re-entry of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule shows up as an orange flash against the backdrop of a shadowed Earth in this view from the International Space Station. The station’s robotic arm is silhouetted against the atmosphere’s glow. Click on the image for a larger version. (NASA Photo via Twitter / Jack Fischer)

SpaceX already proved it could lower the cost to space with its reusable Falcon 9 rocket, but this morning, it proved that it could also recycle its robotic Dragon capsule for a mission from start to finish.

Dragon splashed down into the Pacific Ocean near Baja California at 5:12 a.m. PT, returning 4,000 pounds of cargo from the International Space Station. It’s the first Dragon to make two successful splashdowns, and the first spacecraft to make two round trips to the space station since the space shuttle era ended in 2011.

NASA astronaut Jack Fischer released the capsule from the International Space Station’s robotic arm at around 11:40 p.m. PT Sunday, with crewmate Peggy Whitson alongside.

“Dragon’s been an incredible spacecraft,” Fischer said. “I can even say it was slathered in awesome sauce. This baby has had almost no problems, which is an incredible feat, considering it’s the first reuse of a Dragon vehicle.”

Fischer spoke excitedly about the contents of SpaceX’s CRS-11 resupply mission, which was launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center exactly a month ago.

“Most of the 6,000 pounds of cargo it carried was science, and almost all the return cargo are precious samples for discoveries we can’t wait to see,” he said.

Among the scientific experiments making their return are the Fruit Fly Lab-02 experiment, testing how the microgravity can affect the heart; and Systemic Therapy of NELL-1 for Osteoporosis, a study focusing on a drug that’s meant to counteract the loss of bone mass in zero-gravity conditions as well as on Earth.

The capsule was picked up by an oceangoing recovery team and will be brought back to Los Angeles. From there, it will be shipped to SpaceX’s Texas facility for processing.

This Dragon was first used for a space station resupply mission in 2014 and was refurbished after its first return to Earth. SpaceX plans to reduce the turnaround time for the future reuse of Dragon capsules as well as Falcon 9 boosters.

Today is shaping up as busy day for SpaceX. The company is gearing up to launch the Intelsat 35e telecommunications satellite aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A.

SpaceX originally planned to launch the satellite on Sunday, but the launch was scrubbed at T-minus-9 seconds after the computer system detected a guidance error. The next hourlong launch opportunity comes at 7:37 p.m. ET (4:37 p.m. PT).

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