SpaceX Dragon leaves space station for trip home

By MARCIA DUNN | May 31, 2012 | 11:27 AM EDT

This framegrab image from NASA-TV shows the SpaceX Dragon capsule just after the capsule is backed away from the International Space Station and being repositioned for release later Thursday morning May 31, 2012. The Dragon capsule is scheduled for splashdown at 11:44 a.m. EDT Thursday in the Pacific Ocean. (AP Photo/NASA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The Dragon spacecraft is on its way home.

Early Thursday morning, space station astronauts set the SpaceX capsule loose after a five-day visit.

The world's first commercial supply ship is due to splash down in the Pacific at midday, Eastern Time. It will aim for an area 560 miles southwest of Los Angeles. On board are science samples and old station equipment.

Last week, the California-based SpaceX became the first private company to send a cargo ship to the International Space Station. It's now on the verge of becoming the only supplier to return major items. The government-provided cargo vessels of Russia, Europe and Japan burn up on descent. NASA lost the capability of getting things back when the shuttles were retired last year.