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SpaceX Dragon capsule returns to Earth

May 31, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
About 1,000 SpaceX employees stood behind mission control to watch as the Dragon capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, completing a historic mission to the International Space Station by the first privately built space rocket and capsule.

It blasted off into space last Wednesday and spent five days docked at the International Space Station. The Dragon capsule was released from the space station's arm around 2:30 a.m. PT, returning like a burning comet at 100 meters per second.

It got to Earth around 8:44 a.m. PT, traveling a little longer than six hours. One of the significant features of the capsule is its heat shield, which prevents it from burning up upon descent. It came back with nearly 1,400 pounds of old space station equipment and some science samples.

This was the first time a private company brought cargo from space back to Earth.

"With this mission, we've proven it can be done. A private company can do this," said Kirstin Granthan of SpaceX. "We're looking at a future when private companies are going to be more and more involved in space travel."

A recovery ship has picked up the capsule to transport it back to the Port of Los Angeles. From there, the capsule will head to Texas for inspections.

Another flight has already been scheduled for September, but the goal is to get the privately-operated companies to transport astronauts up to space, which could be in three or four years.