A robotic SpaceX cargo craft began its journey home to Earth on Monday afternoon (Jan. 9).
An uncrewed Dragon capsule undocked from the International Space Station (ISS) on schedule Monday at 5:05 p.m. EST (2205 GMT). At the time, the two spacecraft were flying at an altitude of 258 miles (415 kilometers), over a location southeast of Manila, the capital of the Philippines, NASA commentators said during a livestream of the event.
If all goes according to plan, the Dragon will splash down off the coast of Florida on Wednesday (Jan. 11).
The Dragon launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Nov. 26, carrying about 7,700 pounds (3,500 kilograms) of cargo to the ISS. This gear included two new International Space Station Roll Out Solar Arrays (iROSAs), which NASA astronauts installed during two spacewalks last month.
The capsule also carried a variety of scientific experiments on this mission, known as CRS-26 because it was the 26th robotic resupply flight to the ISS flown by SpaceX. One investigation is growing dwarf cherry tomatoes on the orbiting lab to study off-Earth food production, for example, while another continues ongoing research with 3D-cultured heart tissue in microgravity.
The CRS-26 Dragon is carrying about 4,400 pounds (2,000 kg) of supplies and scientific gear back down to Earth with it, NASA officials said.
This return capability is unique to Dragon. The other currently operational ISS resupply craft — Northrop Grumman's Cygnus vehicle and Russia's Progress — are designed to burn up in Earth's atmosphere after they leave the orbiting lab.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 5:25 p.m. EST on Jan. 9 with news of Dragon's successful undocking.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.