The SpaceX Dragon capsule, a privately owned spacecraft, returned to Earth Thursday from the International Space Station
Cape Canaveral, Florida
The unmanned capsule parachuted into the ocean about 500 miles off Mexico's Baja California, bringing back more than a half-ton of old station equipment. It was the first time since the space shuttles stopped flying last summer that NASA got back a big load from the orbiting lab.
Thursday's dramatic arrival of the world's first commercial cargo carrier capped a test mission that was virtually flawless, beginning with the May 22 launch aboard the SpaceX company's Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral and continuing through the space station docking three days later and the departure a scant six hours before it hit the water.
"Launch, docking, reentry and recovery successful," SpaceX's billionaire founder, Elon Musk, said in a statement provided by the company. "Welcome home, baby."
The returning bell-shaped Dragon resembled NASA's Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft of the 1960s and 1970s, yet symbolizes the future for American space travel. Musk aims to launch the next supply mission in September under a steady contract with NASA, and says astronauts can be riding Dragons to and from the space station in as little as three or four years.
Musk said in a tweet from the company's Mission Control in Hawthorne, Calif., that the next version of the capsule will land with "helicopter precision."