SpaceX Dragon returns to Earth to end historic trip

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“That’s good news,” the astronaut said.

It took several minutes for SpaceX to pinpoint the splashdown spot because of clouds in the area that hampered NASA’s tracking planes. Early reports were that the Dragon splashed down right on target.

The unmanned Dragon capsule returned nearly 1,400 pounds of old space station equipment and some science samples, a little more than it took up. Because it was a test flight, NASA did not want to load it with anything valuable. It carried up mostly food and clothing.

A Dragon returned from a short trip to orbit once before, on a solo shakedown cruise in December 2010.

Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for carrying crews also parachutes down, but on land, deep inside Kazakhstan. All of the government-provided cargo vessels of Russia, Europe and Japan are filled with station garbage and burn up on descent.

NASA lost the capability of getting things back when its shuttles were retired last July.

Rival Orbital Sciences Corp. hopes to have its first unmanned test flight off by year’s end, launching from Wallops Island in Virginia. It also has a NASA contract for cargo runs.

Until American astronauts are flying again from U.S. soil, the focus will be on filling the space station’s larder.

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