SpaceX’s robotic Dragon cargo ship splashed down in the Pacific Ocean tonight, bringing science experiments and used hardware from the International Space Station back to Earth after dark.
The Dragon delivered nearly 3 tons of food, supplies and experiments to the station on Dec. 8, and it took more than four weeks to unload the cargo and reload the Dragon with payloads for the return trip. NASA delayed the Dragon’s descent by several days due to concerns about weather in the recovery area.
The station’s robotic arm released the Dragon at 3:33 p.m. PT, and the craft parachuted to its splashdown just before 9:15 p.m. SpaceX’s recovery ship headed to the scene to pull the Dragon out of the sea and bring it back to port in California.
Even though the splashdown and recovery came well after sunset, NASA said in a status update that there was “plenty of moonlight to track its entry.”
NASA provided minimal streaming-video coverage of the Dragon’s return due to the partial government shutdown.
An updated, crew-capable version of the Dragon is due for its first launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as early as next month. That demonstration mission to the space station and back, known as SpaceX DM-1, should set the stage for the first Dragon flight to carry astronauts, potentially sometime this summer.