updated 10:35 am EDT, Thu May 31, 2012
Dragon capsule is carrying old ISS equipment back to Earth
Nine days after its launch, SpaceX' Dragon capsule detached from the International Space Station and began its trip back to Earth. The capsule was docked with the ISS for five days, after delivering supplies to the ISS. It was loaded with about 1,400lbs of old space station equipment and science samples.
The first private flight to the ISS is aimed to land 560 miles west of Baja, California. Due to the test nature of the flight, NASA didn't want to load the shuttle with any valuables. This will mark only the second time that a Dragon capsule has returned from space.
If the landing proves a success, the next Dragon supply mission is due to take off in September. SpaceX founder Elon Musk believes astronauts will fly up to the ISS in Dragon capsules within three or four years.
When NASA retired its space shuttle, it lost the ability to get cargo back from the ISS. SpaceX' Dragon and Russia's Soyuz spacecraft are the only two capable of return flights. Cargo vessels from the governments of Russia, Europe, and Japan burn up in Earth's orbit. [via ABC]