A SpaceX Dragon capsule is waiting to return to Earth on Thursday morning after spending the last month in space. The cargo ship flew to the International Space Station (ISS) in early December and is due to make the trip back home tomorrow.

According to NASA, the Dragon spacecraft is packed with “time-critical space experiments” and will undock from the ISS bright and early on January 10, splashing down a few hours later in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern California.

As the Inquisitr previously reported, the Dragon cargo ship was sent to the ISS as part of SpaceX’s 16th resupply mission, or CRS-16. Launched on December 5, the capsule docked with the station’s Harmony module on December 8, delivering 5,600 pounds of equipment, scientific experiments, and supplies — including some well-deserved Christmas goods for the astronauts on board the orbiting laboratory.

Now that its mission has been completed, the Dragon space freighter will fly back home tomorrow morning. In preparation for its return trip to Earth, NASA astronaut Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency have loaded the spacecraft with science samples from several experiments, due to “be delivered to investigators around the country for analysis,” NASA detailed in a blog post on Monday.

Both McClain and Saint-Jacques are serving as flight engineers of Expedition 58. The astronauts traveled to the ISS on December 3 together with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos, the current commander of the orbital research facility.

“The Expedition 58 crew packed up the SpaceX Dragon for Thursday’s departure, while ground controllers readied communications gear and robotics systems,” ISS representatives announced via Twitter.

These systems will come in handy after the capsule separates from the space station and will be used to monitor and command the Dragon during its journey home.

The Dragon spacecraft is currently in the grips of the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm, which grappled the capsule on Monday night and will release it from the ISS at around 4:35 a.m. EDT tomorrow morning.

“Meanwhile, the hatches are still open and flight engineers Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques continue loading time-critical space experiments inside the U.S. cargo craft,” NASA officials said yesterday.

“The crew will shut the hatch to Dragon Wednesday and disconnect power cables. Then robotics controllers will take over, uninstall Dragon from Harmony overnight and maneuver it into release position.”

Once the Dragon capsule leaves the space station, it will orbit Earth for a few hours before plunging through our planet’s atmosphere to perform a parachute-assisted ocean landing.

“SpaceX personnel will retrieve Dragon and return it to port where NASA engineers will extract the precious cargo for immediate shipment to investigators around the country,” explained the space agency.

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