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SpaceX Dragon's quest to the space station (pictures)

The cargo ship has notched a historic mission to the International Space Station, a first for the coming boom in commercial space travel.

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James Martin
James Martin is the Managing Editor of Photography at CNET. His photos capture technology's impact on society - from the widening wealth gap in San Francisco, to the European refugee crisis and Rwanda's efforts to improve health care. From the technology pioneers of Google and Facebook, photographing Apple's Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Sundar Pichai, to the most groundbreaking launches at Apple and NASA, his is a dream job for any documentary photography and journalist with a love for technology. Exhibited widely, syndicated and reprinted thousands of times over the years, James follows the people and places behind the technology changing our world, bringing their stories and ideas to life.
James Martin
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Back with a splash

SpaceX's Dragon capsule returned to Earth today with a splash following a successful mission to the International Space Station.

At approximately 8:42 AM Pacific Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) completed its historic mission when the Dragon spacecraft splashed down safely in the Pacific. The vehicle will now be recovered by boats and start the trip back to land.

The image of the craft bobbing in the ocean is strangely reminiscent of past NASA Apollo space missions, but this flight was different as Dragon became the first commercial vehicle in history to successfully attach to the International Space Station. Previously only four governments – the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Space Agency – had achieved lofty goal.

Editors' note: This slideshow was originally published May 24 at 12:11 p.m. PT. It is being updated with new images and information as the SpaceX mission proceeds.
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Dragon's parachutes deployed

Dragon's parachutes are visible on the Pacific Ocean shortly after the spacecraft splashed down.
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Pacific landing

Dragon is seen in this screenshot of video from the Pacific landing this morning.
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Following a May 22 launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft reached orbit on a mission to meet up with the International Space Space in a historic event -- the first commercial ship to dock at the space station.

Here we see the Dragon capsule, berthed at the International Space Station on Friday, May 25. The Dragon returned to Earth this morning.
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With the clouds and land of Earth far below forming a backdrop, the SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is grappled by the Canadarm2 robotic arm at the International Space Station.
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Expedition 31 Flight Engineers Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers aboard the ISS on May 25 got hold of Dragon at 9:56 a.m. EDT and used the robotic arm to berth Dragon to the Earth-facing side of the station’s Harmony node at 12:02 p.m. that day.
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Here's another view of the Dragon, with Earth's horizon visible in the background.
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The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft approaches the International Space Station on May 25, 2012 just before it is grabbed by the station's Canadarm2 robotic arm, and pulled in for berthing.
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This image of the inside of the Dragon module was taken by European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers following the docking of SpaceX's unmanned craft, the first commercial flight mission to the ISS.
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Kuipers, the Expedition 31 flight engineer, is seen inside the newly opened Dragon capsule following the successful docking with the International Space Station.
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The first look at astronauts inside Dragon as it connects to the International Space Station.
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Gotcha! The robotic arm of the International Space Station captures the Dragon capsule at 9:56 a.m. PT / 6:56 a.m. PT on Friday, May 25. Folks at SpaceX, founded by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, were understandably elated. As soon as NASA confirmed the docking, SpaceX tweeted: CAPTURE COMPLETE!!!
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The Dragon cargo ship as seen from the International Space Station on Friday morning ahead of the capture, poised just below the lab complex.
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This picture shows the space station as seen from the approaching SpaceX Dragon capsule.
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Dragon is spotted by the ISS

Running through a series of tasks in preparation for docking with the ISS, Dragon showed its Absolute Global Positioning System (GPS), proximity operations sensors, and Commercial Orbital Transportation Services UHF Communication Unit (CUCU) are up and running properly.

This first view of the Dragon spacecraft as seen from the space station, SpaceX's Dragon appears as a just a small dot in the sky in this image taken Thursday.
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Guidance, navigation, and control door

This image of the Dragon spacecraft shows the opening of the guidance, navigation, and control door as it orbits Earth on Wednesday.
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Dragon as seen from the ISS

This is a far-away view of the Dragon spacecraft as taken by astronauts aboard the space station. Prior to the docking, Dragon checked its systems and demonstrated safety procedures including full abort, and practiced floating freely in orbit in preparation for being grappled by the space station’s robotic arm.
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Solar array deployed

Here's a view from the Dragon spacecraft as it orbits the Earth. Only minutes after the spacecraft separated from the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage, its solar arrays successfully deployed, providing power to the spacecraft.
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In sight of the ISS

Early Thursday morning, Dragon’s thrusters fired, bringing the vehicle within a distance of 2.4 kilometers below the International Space Station. This image of the space station was taken by the Dragon spacecraft’s thermal imager.

Using its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services UHF Communication Unit (CUCU), Dragon established its first communications link with the space station as part of docking preparations.
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View from the Dragon

As the Dragon spacecraft orbits the Earth it captured this image with its thermal-imaging camera, which will be used during its approach to the space station.

Read more about Dragon's preparations for joining with the ISS.

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