SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule returns to Earth after 6-week stay at space station

SpaceX's robotic Dragon cargo capsule leaves the International Space Station on Jan. 9, 2023. The spacecraft splashed down off the coast of Florida two days later.
SpaceX's robotic Dragon cargo capsule leaves the International Space Station on Jan. 9, 2023. The spacecraft splashed down off the coast of Florida two days later. (Image credit: NASA TV)

Dragon has come home.

SpaceX's robotic Dragon capsule splashed down off the coast of Tampa, Florida on Wednesday (Jan. 11) at 5:19 a.m. EST (1019 GMT), wrapping up a six-week cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS). 

That mission — known as CRS-26, because it was the 26th resupply flight that SpaceX flew to the orbiting lab for NASA — lifted off atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Nov. 26, 2022. The CRS-26 Dragon carried about 7,700 pounds (3,500 kilograms) of cargo to the ISS, including two new power-augmenting solar arrays, which NASA astronauts installed during two spacewalks in December.

Related: Facts about the International Space Station

Dragon departed the station on Monday afternoon (Jan. 11), heading back down to Earth with about 4,400 pounds (2,000 kg) of supplies and scientific investigations.

Among that gear is equipment that astronauts used to grow plants in microgravity, hardware for a "bioprospecting" experiment that ran aboard the space station, and the Astrorad vest, which is designed to protect spaceflyers from harmful radiation. 

"Crew members wore the Astrorad vest while performing daily tasks and provided feedback about how easy it is to put on, how it fits and feels and the range of motion possible while wearing it," NASA officials wrote in an update on Wednesday morning. "The vest's developers plan to use that feedback to improve design of the garment, which could provide radiation protection for astronauts on Artemis missions to the moon."

No other currently operational ISS cargo craft can bring gear safely down to Earth like this. The other two active freighters — Northrop Grumman's Cygnus spacecraft and Russia's Progress vehicle — burn up in Earth's atmosphere when their time in orbit is done.

There's still one Dragon docked to the orbiting lab — the crew capsule Endurance, which carried four astronauts to the ISS on SpaceX's Crew-5 mission for NASA in early October. Endurance and its four passengers are expected to return to Earth in March.

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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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with 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.