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SpaceX cargo ship departs station, returns to Earth

A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship loaded with 3,800 pounds of science samples, no-longer-needed equipment and trash was released from the International Space Station early Sunday for a fiery return to Earth, splashing safely into the Pacific Ocean to wrap up a month-long stay in space.

The Dragon capsule, the only space station cargo ship capable of bringing research samples and other material back to Earth, descended under three large parachutes to a gentle splashdown about 230 miles southwest of Long Beach, Calif., at 10:46 a.m. ET.

“Good splashdown of Dragon confirmed, carrying @NASA science and research cargo back from the @Space_Station,” SpaceX tweeted.

SpaceX recovery crews stationed nearby planned to haul the spacecraft back to the Port of Long Beach, where high-priority science samples will be turned over to NASA.

“Houston, it looks like it’s time to say goodbye to Dragon,” European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet radioed a few hours earlier, after the Dragon’s release from the lab’s robot arm. “There’s a part of us that will come back down to Earth with her, and I mean that literally because it carries lots of important scientific samples, and some obtained directly from the crew.”

“I know scientists can’t wait to get their hands on their results, and thanks to return vehicles like Dragon, the ISS is able to fulfill its mission of science and discovery,” Pesquet said. “From all the crew of Expedition 50, many thanks and congratulations to all the teams involved in this CRS-10 mission.”

Astronaut Michael Hopkins in mission control at the Johnson Space Center passed along his thanks in turn, saying “you guys did a fantastic job, always staying ahead of the timeline, and it’s going to be great to get Dragon back on Earth.”

A SpaceX Dragon cargo ship loaded with science samples and other material returned to Earth Sunday with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean southwest of Long Beach, Calif. The station crew took this photo shortly before the capsule’s release by the lab’s robot arm. NASA

This was the 10th of more than two dozen planned SpaceX station resupply mission carried out under multiple NASA contracts totaling more than $2 billion. The California rocket builder also holds a $2.6 billion contract to build a piloted version of the Dragon to ferry astronauts to and from the space station.

Orbital ATK also holds NASA contracts to resupply the station with its Cygnus cargo ship. With the Dragon capsule back on Earth, Orbital ATK plans to launch its seventh Cygnus mission March 24, using a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket to send more than 7,500 pounds of equipment and supplies to the lab complex.

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