Dragon is due to be released from the station early Thursday (May 31) and splash down a few hours later. The return to Earth is the last major hurdle for the groundbreaking spacecraft built by Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX).
The unmanned Dragon space capsule is the first commercial spacecraft ever to visit the International Space Station. It docked at the space station on Friday (May 25), three days after blasting off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
So far, the landmark test flight has gone smoothly, with Dragon meeting each of its mission milestones with very little deviation from its flight plan, SpaceX officials said."The behavior of the vehicle was as expected and that was a big confidence boost," Dragon mission director John Couluris of SpaceX said during a news conference today (May 30).
SpaceX's Dragon capsule is rare in its ability to survive re-entry to Earth and be recovered. Most automated cargo vehicles that visit the space station, such as those built by Russia, Japan and Europe, are designed for one-way trips only, and are destroyed after their missions as they plunge through the planet's atmosphere.