SpaceX Dragon capsule lands safely in central Asia

This article is over 3 years old NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov step off capsule in return to Earth in Kazakhstan The SpaceX Dragon capsule has arrived…

SpaceX Dragon capsule lands safely in central Asia

This article is over 3 years old

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov step off capsule in return to Earth in Kazakhstan

The SpaceX Dragon capsule has arrived at its Port Canaveral launch site after a two-week trip to the International Space Station, capping a successful 132-day expedition to the orbiting laboratory.

The capsule landed safely a little before 5pm local time at the Central Asian spaceport in Kavkaz, Kazakhstan, assisted by parachutes that lowered it to the Earth’s surface at just a few metres per second.

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and two Russian cosmonauts had just entered the capsule and had been extracted from it shortly before it dropped through the atmosphere.

After circling the world three times to round up its launch pad, the Dragon capsule climbed out from a docking port in the US Destiny laboratory and reached its port at the station some 27 miles (43km) away.

The previous closest docking was on 4 April, some 250 miles (400km) up.

The station, which is housed in a $100bn, Russian-built research complex, is officially about 260 miles (418km) above Earth. But it passes over parts of California and parts of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, where crews are under way with resupply missions.

Even so, landing is more difficult because “the capsule just needs to hit the right contact point between the orbiter and ground”, NASA mission commentator Rob Navias said from Mission Control in Houston.

Turbulence prevented live TV coverage of the capsule’s touchdown.

The capsule splashed down after a parachute crash-landed in the steppes of Kazakhstan – which is where one of the aborted missions to the station occurred. SpaceX’s success means two of the three companies that have signed up NASA as an astronaut partner are ready to conduct crewed flights.

Russian Soyuz capsules are still Nasa’s only way to fly people to the space station. The US space agency expects to move closer to ditching its ageing space shuttles next year, allowing for commercial flights.

Russian cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Gennady Padalka, along with Kelly and Kornienko, had been in orbit since arriving on 21 March. They conducted biological and physical tests on the crew to improve understanding of the challenges of long-duration spaceflight. Kelly and Kornienko were scheduled to remain in orbit for a year, a Russian record.

Kelly posted a photograph from the cockpit of the Dragon capsule after it slowed and began to roll toward Earth to land.

Scott Kelly (@StationCDRKelly) Success! Dragon has been safely back on Earth for 2 days!! Follow along with a live stream of the reentry & landing @teaser vid of the roll #YearInSpace #YearInSpace pic.twitter.com/WN8bWAygjw

Kelly has chronicled his yearlong mission through a blog, photographs and daily video posted on Twitter. As part of the effort to encourage more kids to pursue science and math, one goal was to induce a week-long “strawberry milkshake spell” in fourth-graders worldwide, led by Kornienko and Kelly. The last video posted by the pair was from the South Pole last week.

Nearly 700,000 people live near the space station and watched the landing live from home, according to NASA. It was monitored from a command post at the US Space Coast.

“All systems positive,” test director Jeff Spaulding said from the command post. “They’re all good,” he added, encouraging SpaceX Mission Control at the nearby Nasa Kennedy Space Center.

The capsule had already spent nine days circling Earth at its closest approach. It had spent 16 days orbiting Earth at a normal range.

The flight, launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, is the fifth of 12 SpaceX missions carrying cargo to the station under an $800m contract with Nasa.

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