A few hours ago the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft ended its CRS-14 (Cargo Resupply Service 14) mission for NASA splashing down smoothly in the Pacific Ocean a little more than 420 kilometers (about 326 miles) off the coast of California. The Dragon left the International Space Station a few hours before.
Shortly after landing, SpaceX boats went to retrieve the Dragon to transport it to the coast. The cargo brought back to Earth will be delivered to NASA soon, probably tomorrow. The Dragon spacecraft reached the International Space Station on april 4, 2018.
The Dragon spacecraft brought back to Earth more than 1,800 kg (a little more than 4,000 lbs) of mixed cargo between the pressurized and the non-pressurized section that include various scientific experiments and biological samples. Part of the samples are contained in the freezers because they need to be kept at low temperatures.
There’s a considerable variety in the cargo, precisely because very different researches are carried out on the International Space Station. For example, the Space Technology and Advanced Research Systems, Inc.-1 Experiment Facility (STaARS-1 EF) completed a year of work aboard the Station. This experiment aims to simulate the reactions of living systems exposed to various levels of simulated gravity. This allows to assess the effects of the gravity existing on the Moon or on Mars.
On the Dragon cargo space ship there’s also Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot part of a project to create an assistant for jobs that require the use of tools made for humans. It was sent to the International Space Station in 2011 and was upgraded over the years but due to some electronic problems it needed to be brought back to Earth to repair it, hoping to send it into space again within a year.
SpaceX is the only American company that has a spacecraft that can bring intact cargo back to Earth so the Dragon missions are really important for NASA. Samples produced during many of the experiments conducted on the International Space Station may require in-depth analyzes possible only in specialized laboratories on Earth.
Medical research, other biological research and experiments of other types are conducted on the Station. When they need to bring something back to Earth a little cargo can be transported together with the astronauts on the Soyuz spacecraft but their total volume requires a cargo spacecraft that can bring them back to Earth.
The next resupply mission for the Dragon cargo spacecraft could begin as early as June 28, 2018, although launch dates are always approximate. For the moment they have to verify that samples and experiments returned to Earth undamaged. Once again, a SpaceX resupply mission was conducted with a partially used Dragon spacecraft launched on a rocket with a used first stage and this could become normal.