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SpaceX spacecraft splashes down in the Pacific

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Posted at 1:35 PM, May 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-11 16:35:59-04

A spacecraft built and operated by Hawthorne-based SpaceX splashed down in the Pacific Ocean Wednesday after spending about a month attached to the International Space Station.

The Dragon spacecraft, carrying thousands of pounds of science and research cargo, left the station shortly after 6:30 a.m. local time and splashed down about six hours later.

The craft was launched April 8 in a mission that turned historic when SpaceX mission controls successfully maneuvered the Falcon 9 rocket that propelled it into space back to Earth, landing it upright on a floating barge known affectionately as "Of Course I Still Love You."

The aerospace company had failed on about a half-dozen previous attempts to land the rocket on the barge. The successful recovery was a major advancement in efforts to retrieve the expensive rockets for re-use. SpaceX recovered a rocket on land in December, but using the barge is considered more cost-effective because the rocket travels a shorter distance.

The CRS-8 Dragon Resupply Mission carried about 7,000 pounds of supplies to the station, including a 3,100-pound Bigelow Expandable Activity Module -- an experimental space habitat that attaches to the station in an effort to expand habitable space.

The cargo also included specimens of the fungus Aspergillus nidulans, which will be studied in the high-radiation, micro-gravity conditions aboard the space station. Scientists from USC and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said the experiments represent the first time fungi have been sent into space for the purpose of developing new medicine. Molecules from Aspergillus nidulans potentially may be useful in anti-cancer and Alzheimer's disease research, USC officials said.

Other cargo aboard the Dragon spacecraft included experiments relating to muscle atrophy and bone loss in space and the interactions of particle flows at the nanoscale level, according to NASA.