Return of the Dragon: SpaceX Mission a Success

The Dragon capsule floats around 250 miles off the coast of Baja California shortly before retrieval by SpaceX. Click to enlarge this image. SpaceX

The private spaceflight company has completed its first supply trip to the space station, splashing down off Baja California.

Space Exploration Technologies wrapped up its first cargo run to the International Space Station on Sunday, reopening a U.S. supply line to the orbital outpost that was cut off by the retirement of the space shuttles last year.

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The company's Dragon freighter splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 3:22 p.m. EDT about 250 miles off the coast of Baja California and was retrieved by an awaiting recovery ship. NASA is paying SpaceX $1.6 billion to make at least 12 cargo hauls to the orbital outpost.

The United States has been dependent on partners Russia, Europe and Japan to ferry supplies and science instruments to the station since the shuttle program ended in July 2011.

NASA also hired a second U.S. firm, Orbital Sciences Corp., to resupply the station. Orbital plans to debut its Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo capsule early next year.

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SpaceX completed a practice run to the station in May and launched its first operational mission for NASA on Oct 7. The Dragon capsule, loaded with about 900 pounds of food, supplies and science experiments, reached the station three days later.

Astronauts aboard the station unpacked the gear and reloaded Dragon with nearly 1,700 pounds of science samples and equipment that have been awaiting a ride back to Earth for more than a year.

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