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SpaceX's mission ends with a splashdown in the Pacific

May 31, 2012|By W.J. Hennigan

SpaceX’s Dragon space capsule successfully splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Thursday about 563 miles west of Baja California after spending nine days in outer space.

The unmanned capsule hit the water at 8:42 a.m. PDT, marking the end of a historic mission carried out by the Hawthorne-based company, officially known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

"Splashdown! Welcome home !" the company tweeted.

About five minutes before splashdown, the three main parachutes billowed open. The orange and white striped parachutes, each 116 feet in diameter, slowed the spacecraft's descent to approximately 16 to 18 feet per second. 

INTERACTIVE: SpaceX's demonstration mission

A 185-foot working barge equipped with a crane, an 80-foot crew boat, and two 25-foot rigid hull inflatable boats are now steaming toward the capsule for recovery.

The Dragon is packed with 1,455 pounds of cargo that will be returned to NASA.

SpaceX last week became the world’s first privately built and operated spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station.

The test mission largely went without a hitch, SpaceX and NASA have said. The successful mission bolsters the prospects for  SpaceX, which built the Apollo-like Dragon spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket that launched it to orbit.

Dragon's mission, which began May 22 when the Falcon 9 lifted off in the predawn hours from Cape Canaveral,  Fla., is considered the first test of NASA's  plan to outsource space missions to privately funded companies now that the U.S. fleet of space shuttles has been retired. SpaceX aims to prove to NASA that its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule are ready to take on the task of hauling cargo — and eventually astronauts — for the space agency.

If Dragon's recovery is successful, this will be the second time that SpaceX has launched a space capsule into orbit and had it survive a fiery reentry. The company previously pulled off the feat in December 2010 on a test mission that proved Dragon was capable of orbit and reentry.

[For the record, May 31, 12:25 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said Dragon's mission began March 22.]

RELATED:

SpaceX: A new frontier for space travel

NASA hails SpaceX launch as 'a new era' for spaceflight

SpaceX capsule captured by space station crew in historic mission

Twitter.com/@wjhenn

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