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(HOUSTON) — The SpaceX Dragon capsule is making its way back to Earth after becoming the first commercial spacecraft to successfully dock with the International Space Station (ISS).

The Dragon is expected to splash down in the Pacific Ocean off Los Angeles at 11:44 a.m. ET on Thursday.

Early Thursday morning, the capsule was released from the space station’s robotic arm.

“Dragon is free from the International Space Station.  The crew backing away the robotic arm,” Mission Control said.

The Dragon launched into space last Tuesday and arrived at the ISS on May 25 to deliver a half-ton of food and other supplies.  The capsule was also carrying the ashes of 308 people — including James Doohan, who played Scotty in the original Star Trek series, and American astronaut Gordon Cooper — which were in a cannister and jettisoned into space.

The milestone launch was NASA’s first attempt to outsource its missions to privately-funded companies, in this case, Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

Up to now, deliveries in manned rockets have been handled by the European Union, Japan, Russia and the U.S.  Last year, NASA retired its shuttle program after 30 years in anticipation of such private and international missions.

SpaceX, a Hawthorne, California-based company, has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to make 12 trips to the ISS.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


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