(Reuters) - A Space Exploration Technologies Dragon cargo ship ended a month-long stay at the International Space Station on Saturday and headed for a splash-down in the Pacific Ocean.
NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman and Barry Wilmore used the station’s robotic crane to release the capsule, built and operated by California-based SpaceX, as the company is known, at 9:57 a.m. EDT/1357 GMT as the two vehicles soared 260 miles (418 km) over the northwest coast of Australia. “Dragon is free,” mission commentator Rob Navias said during a live broadcast on NASA TV.
The capsule returns with about 3,800 pounds (1,724 kg) of science experiments and equipment no longer needed aboard the station.
It blasted off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Sept. 21 with more than 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg) of food, supplies, experiments and equipment including a prototype 3D printer and 20 live mice that will be used in medical experiments to assess bone and muscle loss during long-duration space flights.
Dragon also delivered a $26 million NASA science instrument called RapidScat that was attached to the outside of the station to measure wind speeds over the oceans.
The capsule is due to make a parachute descent into the Pacific Ocean at 3:39 p.m. EDT (1939 GMT) about 300 miles (483 km) west of Mexico’s Baja California.
The mission is the fourth of 12 under SpaceX’s $1.6 billion contract with NASA for station cargo runs. The company is one of two recently selected by NASA to also develop capsules to fly astronauts to and from the station, a $100 billion research laboratory owned and operated by a partnership of 15 nations.
SpaceX's next resupply mission to the station is targeted for Dec. 9. On Monday, NASA’s second station cargo shipper, Orbital Sciences Corp. is slated to launch its Antares rocket and Cygnus freighter from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Launch is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. EDT/2245 GMT.
(Reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by Stephen Powell)