CAPE CANAVERAL — Triumphant from start to finish, the SpaceX Dragon capsule parachuted into the Pacific on Thursday to conclude the first private delivery to the International Space Station and inaugurate NASA's new approach to exploration.
"Welcome home, baby," said SpaceX's elated chief, Elon Musk, who said the old-fashioned splashdown was "like seeing your kid come home."
The goal for SpaceX, he said from his company's headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., will be to repeat the success on future flights.
The unmanned supply ship scored a bull's-eye with its arrival, splashing down into the ocean about 500 miles off Mexico's Baja California peninsula. A fleet of recovery ships quickly moved in to pull the capsule aboard a barge for towing to Los Angeles. From there, it will be trucked to the SpaceX rocket factory in McGregor, Texas, for unloading and inspection.
Reports from the scene are that the spacecraft looks "really good," Musk said, with no major changes needed for future Dragons, just minor tweaks.
It was the first time since the shuttles stopped flying last summer that NASA got back a big load from the space station, in this case more thahalf a ton of experiments and equipment.
"This successful splashdown and the many other achievements of this mission herald a new era in U.S. commercial spaceflight," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.
President Barack Obama is leading the charge to commercial spaceflight. He wants routine orbital flights turned over to private business so the space agency can work on getting astronauts to asteroids and Mars.