SpaceX's Dragon capsule is attached to the International Space Station… (NASA )
After spending more than three weeks docked with the International Space Station, SpaceX’s Dragon space capsule is ready to return to Earth and splash down Tuesday in the Pacific Ocean.
NASA Television will provide coverage of Dragon's departure beginning at 1 a.m. Pacific time, although the release of the spacecraft isn’t expected until 4:06 a.m.
The Dragon capsule will return with about 2,668 pounds of science samples from human research, biology and biotechnology studies, physical science investigations and education activities for NASA, the space agency said.
Dragon is slated to splash down around 9:36 a.m. in the Pacific Ocean about 300 miles west of Baja California.
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The Hawthorne company, whose formal name is Space Exploration Technologies Corp., initially planned to return the capsule on Monday, but rescheduled because of inclement weather.
SpaceX’s mission began March 1 with a launch of its Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the Dragon capsule, from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The capsule was packed with more than 1,200 pounds of food, scientific experiments and other cargo for delivery to the six astronauts aboard the space station.
Shortly after blastoff, the company ran into a thruster issue with its Dragon capsule as it orbited around the Earth. But in a matter of hours engineers resolved the problem with the thrusters, which help maneuver the capsule in orbit. The capsule later docked with the station.
The resupply mission was SpaceX’s second of 12 missions made under a $1.6-billion contract with NASA. The other official resupply mission was made in October, and a demonstration mission took place in May.
NASA wants to turn the job of carrying cargo and crews over to private industry. Meanwhile, the agency will focus on deep-space missions to land astronauts on asteroids and Mars.
SpaceX, founded in 2002, employs nearly 3,000 scientists, engineers and technicians, many of whom work at the company's sprawling production facility in Hawthorne, where it builds rockets and capsules.
But SpaceX is not alone in the so-called private space race. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., is nipping at the company's heels, with a test flight of its commercial rocket set for later this year. Orbital also has a $1.9-billion cargo-hauling contract with NASA.
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