SpaceX's Dragon capsule splashed into the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, completing its first resupply mission to the International Space Station.

The 12:22 p.m. splashdown occurred about 250 miles off the Southern California coast.

The Hawthorne-based rocket developer formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp. launched Dragon on its Falcon 9 rocket Oct. 7 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The spacecraft docked with the space station three days later, delivering 882 pounds of cargo to the astronauts onboard.

The mission is part of NASA's ambitious effort to transfer responsibility to private companies for sending supplies and eventually people to the orbiting lab.

The feat comes about a year after NASA retired the space shuttle, which had been the space agency's primary means to reach the space station. Since then, NASA has depended on launches from the space agencies of other countries.

"This historic mission signifies the restoration of America's ability to deliver and return critical space station cargo," SpaceX CEO and chief technical officer Elon Musk said in a statement. "The reliability of SpaceX's technology and the strength of our partnership with NASA provide a strong foundation for future missions and achievements to come."

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement that SpaceX's achievement is helping usher "a new era of space exploration."

"By allowing the private sector to take over routine transportation to the space station and other low-Earth orbit destinations, NASA can focus on the things that are too big for any one company to do right now - send our astronauts back around the Moon, to an asteroid and eventually to Mars," Bolden said.

SpaceX conducted the mission under a $1.6 billion NASA contract that calls for at least 12 such trips by the company.

In May, SpaceX's capsule berthed with the space station in a historic test run. The company is the first commercial business to send a ship to the space station. Previously, that achievement was exclusive to the governments of several countries.

Dragon departed the station early Sunday morning with 1,673 pounds of return cargo that included hardware, supplies and a freezer packed with scientific samples. Dragon is the only spacecraft that can return a significant amount of supplies intact to Earth from the space station.

A SpaceX recovery team pulled Dragon out of the ocean and was transporting it to the Port of Long Beach, where some of the cargo will be delivered to NASA.

SpaceX will transport the capsule to its facility in McGregor, Texas, where the remaining cargo will be delivered to the space agency.

The entire mission was nearly flawless, except for the initial launch, when a pressure anomaly caused one of the rocket's engines to shutdown.

As a result, the Falcon 9 delivered a secondary payload, a satellite for a communications company, into a lower orbit than required.

SpaceX and NASA are investigating that problem.

muhammed.el-hasan@dailybreeze.com

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