SpaceX Cargo Dragon spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) this morning. The capsule will return over 5,200 pounds of scientific cargo from the orbiting laboratory as part of SpaceX’s 21st Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-21) contract with NASA. Tuesday at around 9:05 a.m. Eastern Time (EST), Dragon undocked from the Space Station’s Harmony module as NASA Astronaut Victor Glover monitored the spacecraft’s autonomous undocking operation. “Godspeed, Cargo Dragon and to the recovery team!” Glover said during the Live broadcast.
The @SpaceX #CargoDragon completed its 36-day stay at the station today after undocking at 9:05am ET. It will splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico late Wednesday. More... https://t.co/I2Ml2IPSuM pic.twitter.com/LvvcLTIMrp— International Space Station (@Space_Station) January 12, 2021
Dragon fired its thrusters to move away from the Space Station. Over the course of 36 hours, it will orbit Earth to prepare to enter Earth’s atmosphere by Wednesday, January 13. “Dragon will conduct a deorbit burn at 7:37 p.m. to begin its re-entry sequence into Earth’s atmosphere. Dragon is expected to splash down west of Tampa off the Florida coast about 8:27 p.m. (EST) The splashdown will not be broadcasted,” the agency stated in a press release. Upon entering the atmosphere, Dragon will perform a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico where SpaceX recovery vessels will recover the spacecraft. –“Splashing down off the coast of Florida enables quick transportation of the science aboard the capsule to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility, delivering some science back into the hands of the researchers as soon as four to nine hours after splashdown. This shorter transportation timeframe allows researchers to collect data with minimal loss of microgravity effects,” the agency said. Previously, returning scientific cargo took 48 hours, on Wednesday SpaceX and NASA aim to recover and deliver the scientific cargo significantly faster.
The CRS-21 Dragon used for this mission is the first upgraded iteration of the spacecraft, which contains more space to carry important cargo. NASA says the vehicle contains “double the powered locker availability of previous capsules, allowing for a significant increase in the research that can be carried back to Earth.” Dragon is carrying the results of dozens of science experiments, including live mice. The mice are part of the Rodent Research-23 experiment that was performed to study how the eyes’ retina changes before and after spaceflight. Researchers hope to figure out how microgravity impairs the vision to understand why 40% of astronauts have suffered vision impairment during long-duration missions. Upon return to Earth, the mice will be delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and then to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, where teams of ocular experts will examine the eyes of the mice.
All Image Sources: NASA & SpaceX