In the last days of September, the 23rd commercial resupply SpaceX mission ended with the company’s Cargo Dragon leaving the International Space Station and heading back to Earth. The photo you see here depicts the moment of departure in one of the most colorful ways we’ve ever seen spacecraft.
Navigation lights are something we’re used to seeing on the aircraft flying inside the atmosphere, but they are used on spacecraft as well. And this shot of the Dragon released last week by NASA is the perfect example of how they work.
According to the American space agency, we are treated with the Dragon as it moves away from the ISS’ forward-facing international docking adapter. We get to see not only the lights of the spacecraft, but also the plume from one of its engines, making for a very “colorful show.”
The SpaceX capsule left the station carrying with it 4,600 pounds (2,900 kg) of cargo, most of them in the form of scientific experiments. The separation took place as the station was orbiting over the Pacific Ocean, and the craft made a splashdown off the coast of Florida.
One of the most important bits of cargo it carried involved microgravity medical experiments in the fields of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, muscle atrophy, and drug-metabolizing liver enzymes.
As said, this was the 23rd mission of the Cargo Dragon family to the International Space Station since the ship started making these trips back in 2012. During this time, there was only one failure of the thing, in 2015.
Back then, the ship was carrying new hardware for the station’s Russian docking ports, when the rocket that lifted it off the ground exploded. Although it survived the blast, the capsule and its contents were destroyed when they hit the water without the parachutes deploying, simply because there was no software to tell the ship what to do in such a situation.