First private capsule to dock at space station begins return flight to Earth

(CNN) –

The first commercial mission to the International Space Station ended Thursday with the SpaceX Dragon capsule splashing down after a flight the company’s founder declared a “grand slam.”

The Dragon drifted beneath parachutes to the surface of the Pacific Ocean, about 560 miles off Baja California, on Thursday morning. It hit the water about a mile from its target, SpaceX founder Elon Musk told reporters.

“This has been a fantastic day,” Musk said, adding, “I’m just overwhelmed with joy.” He said recovery crews have reached the capsule and report it “looks really good.”

Splashdown came at 8:42 a.m. (11:42 a.m. ET), about two minutes earlier than expected, SpaceX and NASA reported. Musk was on hand at the company’s mission control center near Los Angeles as operators monitored the descent, and called the mission a “grand slam” in a briefing later Thursday.

Splashdown came nine days after it took off on its historic mission, during which it delivered food, clothing, computer equipment and supplies for science experiments to the orbital platform and returned with about 1,300 pounds of cargo — everything from trash to scientific research and experimental samples.

The space station’s robotic arm released the Dragon at 5:35 a.m. ET. A thruster burn a minute later pushed the spacecraft away from its host, according to SpaceX, the private company that built and operates the vessel.

Alan Lindenmoyer, NASA’s head of commercial space systems, said the space agency is waiting to recover the spacecraft’s cargo and will review post-flight reports. But he told Musk, “We became a customer today.” “We’ve been waiting for this day, and it certainly is a tremendous day,” Lindenmoyer said. “We’re looking forward now to routine, regular cargo service.”

Space analyst Miles O’Brien said the flight was a demonstration of the company’s capabilities, and the spacecraft wasn’t carrying critical equipment or supplies.

“If none of this cargo had gone up or down, the show would have gone on,” said O’Brien, a former CNN correspondent. Its next mission, expected later this year, “will be a for-real cargo with mission-critical items.”

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(1) First private capsule to dock at space station begins return flight to Earth
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