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SpaceX capsule to return Monday to Earth

5:51 PM, Mar 21, 2013   |    comments
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florda - International Space Station managers gave the OK Thursday for SpaceX's Dragon cargo capsule to head back to Earth early Monday.

Station managers and SpaceX officials met Thursday to discuss preparations for the flight home, including a review of thruster problems the spacecraft experienced shortly after its March 1 launch from here atop a Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX engineers overcame the problems, and the Dragon arrived at the station March 3, a day later than planned.

"All agreed that all systems are 'go' for a Monday unberthing and departure of Dragon and for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean," NASA TV commentator Kelly Humphries said of the review. Station astronauts Tom Marshburn and Chris Hadfield plan to pull the privately owned, unmanned, reusable capsule from its docking port with a robotic arm at 5:05 a.m. EDT Monday and release it into space at 7:49 a.m.

Packed with 2,668 pounds of equipment and science experiments, the Dragon is expected to re-enter the atmosphere and splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California at 1:19 p.m. EDT. Recovery ships will return the spacecraft to Los Angeles, and it will then be transported to SpaceX's facility in Texas.

Since the shuttle's retirement in 2011, the Dragon capsule is the only vehicle able to return significant amounts of space station cargo to Earth. The mission is SpaceX's second of 12 planned under a $1.6 billion NASA resupply contract.

By James Dean, Florida Today

GANNETT/Florida Today

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