Splashdown January 13th 8:35 PM Est, off the coast of Tampa, FL.
After thirty-six days in space the Dragon Capsule of CRS-21 was returned. On Tuesday January 12th it was autonomously undocked from the International Space Station as it began its journey home to Earth. Since the beginning of the CRS (Commercial Resupply Services) program every Dragon capsule has splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. This marks the first time since 2011 (End of the Shuttle program) that NASA has received space cargo from Florida. That process of returning experiments from space is no easy one. For starters they have to be made safe to come from zero-g into gravity again. Then the capsule splashes down and is recovered via boat. From there a helicopter will fly the most precious cargo directly back to Cape Canaveral where a team of scientists will transport them further back into their laboratories. Though not all will stay in Florida, some will head to places such as California, Massachusetts, Texas, and even Japan.
This does mark the second time now a SpaceX Dragon Capsule has splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico. Though this time it was a Cargo Dragon, not a Crew Dragon that carries astronauts. The company will have to wait a little longer to see the first Dragon splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean which we once again thought this would be the time. Foul seas and bad weather however made SpaceX have to move recovery zones to the Gulf. Unlike most other space capsules designed solely to carry cargo, the Cargo Dragon does not burn up on reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. This enables scientists to bring their experiments back for further evaluation, in fact some scientists received their work just hours after splashdown as a NASA helicopter was on site to quickly get them delivered back at the Kennedy Space Center. With more than double the powered locker storage as the previous version this capsule carried back more than 4,400lbs of scientific experiments/equipment. Some of these experiments include engineered heart tissue that was produced on a 3D printer, zero-g fiber optics, live mice used in experiments studying the function of arteries, veins, and lymphatic structures in the eye and changes in the retina before and after space flight along biofilms that can corrode stainless steel, and other various science. Some will have to wait though as less time sensitive materials were transported back on the recovery vessel which had to sail all the way around Florida to return to Port Canaveral.
The next launch of a Cargo Dragon, the CRS-22 launch is scheduled for no earlier than May of this year, while currently there still sits a Crew Dragon docked at the ISS (International Space Station) with the crew of Crew-1 still on board. They are also expected to return to Earth in May of 2021. The very next Dragon launch will be the Crew-2 launch which we are expecting in March of this year leaving a very crowded Space Station up there, as one astronaut has to sleep in side of the Dragon capsule as it is.