SpaceX's Dragon ship returns to Earth after space station trip

Another small step has been taken in the private space transport business.

An unmanned Dragon spacecraft carrying a stash of precious medical samples from the International Space Station parachuted into the Pacific Ocean on Sunday, completing the first official shipment under a billion-dollar contract with NASA.

The California-based SpaceX company successfully guided the Dragon down from orbit to a splashdown a few hundred miles off the Baja California coast.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden praised the "American ingenuity" that made the endeavor possible.

The supply ship brought back nearly 2,000 pounds of science experiments and old station equipment. Perhaps the most eagerly awaited cargo is nearly 500 frozen samples of blood and urine collected by station astronauts over the past year.

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The Dragon is the only delivery ship capable of returning items, now that NASA's shuttles are retired to museums.