CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule returned Monday from the International Space Station, wrapping up its most important mission yet.
Since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011, U.S. space station deliveries have been provided by Russia. This was the first private mission to our orbiting outpost, and, later this week, a Russian Soyuz capsule will bring a U.S. astronaut and two Russians home.
The Dragon capsule was filled with science samples, food and other supplies and undocked from the space station at 2:47 a.m. EDT. The capsule drifted away into the darkness and was captured by the space station’s robotic arm just minutes later.
A few hours later, a backup crewmember, Peggy Whitson, the first female commander, slipped inside to help unload the Dragon. She joined the station’s current crew of three, so Whitson wasn’t in space for the entire flight. She left for Earth on Thursday with NASA astronaut Jack Fischer.
NASA’s commercial crew program manager, Kathy Lueders, was touched that SpaceX delivered the most significant load of cargo yet to the space station.
“I want to acknowledge the job that all the folks at SpaceX have done to deliver the Dragon,” she said. “It’s been an amazing milestone for commercial crew.”
And why no mention of Elon Musk, the outspoken chief executive of SpaceX?
“The launch itself didn’t inspire me,” Lueders said, joking that she felt constricted by his musings before the unmanned Dragon took off three weeks ago. She referred to Musk’s announcement that his moon-orbiting company was actively considering blasting a manned spacecraft to Mars.
With five spacewalks planned by the current crew, SpaceX conducted three during the Dragon’s 13-day visit.
Boeing has two Starliner crew capsules in development. One’s for commercial use, while the other will be used for NASA launches.