Updated 2:50 p.m.: “Welcome home baby,” said SpaceX’s founder and design chief Elon Musk during a press conference Thursday afternoon following the Dragon capsule’s return to Earth. ”It’s like seeing your kid come home,” he continued.

Musk also floated the idea of touring the capsule around the country, saying that he would approve of any effort to foster interest among and further educate students about space travel.

The President spoke with Musk last week to congratulate him and the team on the success of the launch — a call Musk “very much appreciated.” Musk also said he received a number of calls from members of Congress and stressed that support for the mission is a “bipartisan thing,” saying that those on both sides could “feel great about this.”

As for the capsule’s ahead-of-schedule landing, Musk said, if it wasn’t for wind drift, SpaceX could have landed Dragon in smoeone’s backyard.

Updated 12: 26 p.m.: As the crew works to retrieve the Dragon capsule, NASA has concluded its live coverage of what has, at least initially, been deemed a successful mission for SpaceX.

Updated 11:59 a.m.: The parachutes have been detached, as we continue to wait for clearer footage and photos of Dragon’s retrieval from the Pacific.

Update 11:51 a.m.: The Dragon capsule has landed 27 degrees lattitude and 120 degrees longitude, placing it almost precisely on target. Crew in the Pacific have also confirmed contact with the capsule.

Updated 11:42 a.m.: The SpaceX team has confirmed that the Dragon capsule has successfully splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. There is a large barge in the Pacific to retrieve it.

The three main parachutes have been deployed, each is 116 feet in diameter, painted with white and red stripes. At this stage, the capsule is under 10 minutes away from its scheduled splashdown.

Updated: 11:31 a.m.: First images of the Dragon capsule are being displayed over NASA’s live-feed with the first images appearing in infrared. The images came in at around 10 minutes before splashdown. The parachutes have not yet been deployed. The capsule appears as a grainy, black speck, fading in and out of the infrared camera’s view.

Update 11:11: SpaceX has confirmed that the trunk has been jettisoned from the capsule, as it makes its approach to Earth.

During today’s descent, dual drogue parachutes will deploy at 45,000 feet to stabilize and slow #Dragon.

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 31, 2012

With the de-orbit burn complete @SpaceX Dragon jettisoned its trunk ahead of rentry. Capsule to splashdown in less than 30 minutes.

— NASA Kennedy / KSC (@NASAKennedy) May 31, 2012

Update 10:49 a.m.: The deorbit burn is currently being conducted, changing the velocity of the spacecraft by 100 meters per second — enough to drop it out of orbit. The capsule and the International Space Station are above the Indian Ocean. Visual coverage is, unfortunately, not as spectacular this time around, given the way the Dragon is positioned relative to the space station. The NASA feed is currently of a wide shot of the SpaceX mission control. The SpaceX team has confirmed that the capsule is committed to entry.

The capsule, when it arrives, will be de-commissioned and stored in California. Representatives from NASA will meet the capsule to retrieve the cargo it delivers from the space station.

Updated 10:42: Dragon’s deorbit burn is scheduled to take place in under 6 minutes. The craft will be carrying more cargo on its way back than it carried on its way to the station. Visibility for the crew aboard the space station is limited, which means photos from the crew are likely to be less clear than when the capsule arrived at the station.

Updated 10:18 a.m.: We’re back live with NASA as the countdown begins for the splashdown of the SpaceX Dragon capsule. Splashdown will be West of Baja, Calif.

Original Post: SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is on its way back to Earth after being loaded with supplies from the international space station and detaching from the station successfully Thursday morning.

The Dragon capsule was officially released from the space station’s robotic arm at 5:49 a.m. ET. Every stage of the capsule’s journey is an historic moment, as it is the first commercial spacecraft to successfully travel to and dock with the international space station. However, as the Post’s Brian Vastag wrote on May 25:

While the docking marked a milestone, it was more a policy win than a technical achievement: Shooting stuff into space has been routine for 50 years, and the Dragon carried no astronauts. That is a bigger mission that SpaceX and other U.S. companies are now racing toward.

So, while history is being made, U.S. spaceflight still has a long way to go. That has not stopped space exploration fans from celebrating nearly every stage of the Dragon’s journey, however, with one of the most dramatic events yet to occur: splashdown — which is scheduled for 11:44 a.m. ET Thursday.

Pic of #Dragon released from #ISS. Capsule begins return trip to Earth; splashdown in Pacific scheduled 11:44amET twitpic.com/9r8iiv

— NASA (@NASA) May 31, 2012

#Dragon was released from the space station robotic arm at 4:49 am CT.

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 31, 2012

NASA, as it has done throughout the capsule’s journey, will resume live coverage of the deorbit burn and splashdown at 10:15 a.m.

View Photo Gallery: The SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully attached to the international space station Friday morning, making SpaceX the first private company to launch its own craft for successful rendezvous with the station.

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