ABCnews.com--By Ned Potter
The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, descending under three large parachutes, safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean south of San Diego today, NASA reported, successfully ending the first-ever commercial flight to the International Space Station.
"Splashdown! Welcome home #Dragon!" said SpaceX on its Twitter feed. The landing, monitored at NASA's Mission Control in Houston and SpaceX control in Hawthorne, Calif., took place at 8:42 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. The ship had unberthed from the space station seven hours earlier and fired its engines this morning to slow itself from orbit.
NASA tweeted too: "@SpaceX #Dragon capsule safely down in Pacific Ocean -- ending first mission by a commercial company to resupply the #ISS."
NASA said recovery boats, sent by SpaceX, found the conical Dragon capsule and were steaming toward it to pull it out of the water. The small ship carried extra supplies, experiments and garbage that the space station astronauts had loaded on board.
It was a nine-day flight. The Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station before dawn on May 22, carrying 1,100 pounds of supplies for the station -- and, much more important, the hopes for a new way of doing space travel.
The SpaceX flight was, in many ways, routine. Bringing supplies to the space station is something American space shuttles and Russian Progress capsules started doing when the first components of the station were launched in 1998. American spacecraft have splashed down in the ocean for more than 50 years.
The one major difference, of course, is that SpaceX is a private company, founded by the entrepreneur Elon Musk. Until now, all flights to the space station have been made by the U.S., Russian or European space agencies. NASA hopes SpaceX and other commercial firms will take over space jobs previously done only by governments.
Musk is part of a new breed of celestial aspirants -- entrepreneurs who made their fortunes here on Earth, and now look to the skies for new opportunities.
There is a cynical saying sometimes used that you really can make a small fortune in space -- all you have to do is spend a large one. But Musk and his competitors argue that since they are not burdened by government bureaucracy, they can do cheaply what NASA has done expensively.
They say space could be a bit like the old West: Governments sent explorers, such as Columbus or Lewis and Clark, to open the frontier, and then private settlers followed.