SpaceX Dragon Capsule Heading Back to Earth
During the second NASA-contracted SpaceX Dragon cargo run to the International Space Station (ISS) Sunday morning (March 3, 2013), Canadian astronaut, soon-to-be ISS commander and hugely popular orbital Twitter user Chris Hadfield kept tabs on the Dragon berthing. Here are the stunning views he captured during the successful capture. Here, the Dragon capsule is grappled by the station's robotic arm -- an instrument designed and built by MDA Space Missions for the Canadian Space Agency. "Tonight's Finale: A Dragon, snared and tamed by Canadarm2. Saint George ringing in a new era in the silence of space," Hadfield tweeted. Here are some more views shared by Hadfield with the world via his Twitter account, @Cmdr_Hadfield.
The Canadarm2 awaits the arrival of the Dragon capsule. The robotic arm is the primary component of the space station's Mobile Servicing System (MSS) that was installed in 2001. The Canadarm2 provides support to astronauts on board the station -- berthing spacecraft, providing maintenance services and moving equipment around the station's exterior. "Canadarm2, proud builder of the International Space Station, in preparation for the successful grabbing of a Dragon," tweeted Hadfield.
"Dragon comes into view - first sight this morning, sneaking up on us from behind the Progress solar array," tweeted Hadfield, referring to one of the solar panels of the docked Russian Progress cargo vehicle.
"Self-portrait in the Cupola with rising Dragon below, Africa behind."
As the Dragon approached the space station, there were plenty of photo ops for the astronauts. "The Dragon spaceship high over Mount Etna - both spitting fire," said Hadfield as the spacecraft passed over the east coast of Sicily, Italy.
The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft over the Sahara Desert before space station berthing on March 3, 2013.
"Like a Praying Mantis, Canadarm2 poised to reach out and grab Dragon."
"Success! Canadarm2 holds Dragon by the nose, to drag it up and hook it on to a Station hatch," said Hadfield via his Twitter account when the Dragon was snared at 5:31 am EST Sunday morning.
SpaceX’s Dragon cargo ship left the International Space Station early Tuesday and began a 5.5-hour trip back to Earth, with splashdown slated for 12:34 p.m. ET off the coast of Baja California.
The privately owned capsule arrived at the space station on March 3, loaded with supplies, spare parts and science experiments. Astronauts aboard the orbital outpost unpacked the gear and reloaded it with experiment samples, broken equipment and other items for return to Earth.
Using the station’s robotic crane, astronauts latched on to the capsule and released it into orbit at 6:56 a.m. ET as the ships sailed 252 miles above the planet south of Australia.
“Sad to see the Dragon go,” astronaut Thomas Marshburn radioed to Mission Control in Houston as the capsule flew away.
“Performed her job beautifully. heading back to her lair. Wish her all the best for the splashdown today,” Marshburn added.
Dragon reached the station on March 3, a day later than originally planned due to a thruster pod problem that could have doomed the mission.
“I don’t want to go through that again. That was hard-core,” SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk said during a keynote speech at the popular South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, earlier this month.
The cause of the problem remains under investigation, but engineers suspect a blocked pressurization line or a stuck valve was to blame.
The flight was the second of 12 SpaceX plans to fly for NASA under a $1.6 billion contract to deliver supplies to the station.
A second company hired by NASA is scheduled to test fly its new rocket, called Antares, in April. The company, Orbital Sciences Corp., will be launching from a new complex on Wallops Island, Virginia.
Image: Dragon arrives at the space station on March 3 with more than 2,300 pounds of gear and supplies for the crew. Credit: NASA/CSA/Chris Hadfield