High above Burma, ISS astronauts released the SpaceX CRS-1 Dragon capsule at 8:29 AM CST. Following two brief burns to safely remove the spacecraft from the International Space Station’s “keep out sphere” the craft rotated, accelerated and began heading back to Earth for an estimated landing at 2:20 PM CST.
The deorbit burn, which will lower the Dragon’s apogee is scheduled to begin at 1:28 PM CST, and Dragon trunk, which serves as the mounting point for the crafts’ solar panels will be jettisoned moments before the capsule begins atmospheric interface.
The Dragon is packed with 1,673 lbs of return items, excluding packaging, including items from each of the stations four segments; US, ESA, Japanese and Russian, as well as ISS equipment for analysis and repair. Some of the most important cargo on board came from the astronauts themselves, blood and urine samples taken over the last year which are contributing to a rapidly increasing understanding of bone mineral density loss and other effects of micro-gravity on the human organism. Once safely recovered by a team at the splashdown site, the frozen samples will be unloaded and transported to waiting labs for study. With direct implications for the treatment of purely terrestrial conditions, as well as the particular circumstances of spaceflight, the bio-medical research being conducted on ISS is quietly bridging the gap between space exploration and everyday life. Quoting NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, ” literally and figuratively there’s a piece of us on that spacecraft going home to Earth. ”
With another successful landing, the Dragon will also take an important step in ushering in the day that astronauts themselves will be making the trip home in Dragon as well. While there are no published plans to do so, it should be noted that with the addition of life support systems and seating, both easily accomplished, NASA could readily achieve in Dragon a long sought capacity for an Emergency Crew Return Vehicle, well before the Dragon / Falcon 9 system is certified for crew launch.
Unlike the previous COTS 2/3 mission return, the Dragon’s descent and landing will not be covered live on NASA television.