SpaceX Dragon capsule set to return to earth

Updated:

Loading
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. —

The privately bankrolled Dragon capsule made a historic arrival at the International Space Station last week, and it is now ready to be sent back to earth.

The hatch on SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is closed and in less than 24 hours, the first privately-owned spacecraft should splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA loaded the spacecraft up with critical materials to bring back, but SpaceX will have only 48 hours to return the items to NASA after the capsule splashes down about 400 miles southwest of Los Angeles.

The space station crew already examined the capsule using cameras much like space shuttle astronauts used to do to make sure the capsule's heat shield is intact, and they didn't see any issues.

If the return is successful, SpaceX will have one of two spacecraft capable of returning items from the space station.  The Japanese and European cargo ships are not capable of doing so, and their spacecraft burn up in the atmosphere.

The Dragon capsule will undock about 4 a.m. It will then be pulled away from the space station by the station's robotic arm.

The capsule will do a few maneuvers in space before it's put into a position for reentry about 11 a.m.

There will be three recovery ships in the Pacific, which will be looking for the parachutes and watching the tracking data come in to try and scoop the capsule out of the ocean.

There are some experiments onboard, primarily environmental sample swabs from inside the space station and the Dragon capsule to make sure there is no bacteria growing up there. If the samples are lost during the capsule's splash down, it would not be critical, officials said.