TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — SpaceX is about to make history again. An upgraded cargo Dragon capsule will splashdown off Florida’s west coast Wednesday night.
The capsule has been docked to the International Space Station a little over a month after launching from the Kennedy Space Center on Dec. 6. It brought 6,400 pounds of hardware, research and crew supplies to the station.
The capsule autonomously undocked itself Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 9:05 a.m. ET. Dragon has been orbiting at a safe distance from the ISS since.
Dragon will begin the process of re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere at 7:37 p.m. on Wednesday with a deorbit burn. It will take just under an hour for the capsule to splashdown about 50 miles west of Hudson at 8:27 p.m. NASA will not be broadcasting the splashdown.
The United States Coast Guard Sector St. Pete says it will active a 2-mile safety zone in the Gulf for the capsule’s return. Boaters are advised to stay back and monitor VHF Channel 16.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that anyone will be able to see the capsule splashdown because Dragon will approach Florida’s coastline from the west. That’s not to mention the excessive clouds and rain, along with it being after sunset and dark outside.
The return of this upgraded Dragon capsule will be significant for many reasons. This will be the first time a SpaceX cargo Dragon capsule lands off the coast of Florida.
The splashdown location will allow researchers to receive some of the time-sensitive science onboard in as little as four to nine hours, according to NASA. After the shuttle program ended, where the research landed on the Shuttle Landing Facility on Merritt Island, the returning science landed in the Pacific Ocean with the old Dragon capsules. The turn-around time for the research to be distributed was over 48 hours.
Much of the research conducted in the International Space Station is gravity-sensitive. After the research returns to the Earth’s atmosphere, it begins to feel the effect of gravity, which could degrade the quality of the samples.
Some research is specifically looking at how things adapt to the introduction of gravity. Jennifer Buchli, the deputy chief scientist for the International Space Station program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, says you see organisms begin to react to gravity in as little as 13 hours.
SpaceX’s new cargo Dragon capsule is also able to transport “significantly more science” with double the amount of powered lockers available. The interior design is different making for easier loading but especially faster unloading of the experiments.
Once the capsule has landed and been scooped up, a team will unpack the time-sensitive research and load it onto a waiting helicopter. This will then be flown to land where scientists will be waiting to begin immediate observations on these experiments.
Among the research returning will be live mice. The rodent’s eye’s will be examined in depth for changes before, during and after spaceflight.
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