CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Triumphant from start to finish, the SpaceX Dragon capsule parachuted into the Pacific on Thursday to conclude the first private delivery to the International Space Station and inaugurate NASA’s new approach to exploration.

“Welcome home, baby,” said SpaceX’s elated chief, Elon Musk, who said the old-fashioned splashdown was “like seeing your kid come home.”

He said he was a bit surprised to hit such a grand slam.

“You can see so many ways that it could fail and it works and you’re like, ‘Wow, OK, it didn’t fail,”‘ Musk said, laughing, from his company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. “I think anyone who’s been involved in the design of a really complicated machine can sympathize with what I’m saying.”

The goal now for SpaceX, he told reporters, will be to repeat the success. The unmanned supply ship scored a bull’s-eye with its return, splashing down about 500 miles off Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. A flotilla of recovery ships quickly moved in to haul the capsule aboard a barge for its return to Los Angeles.

It was the first time since the shuttles stopped flying last summer that NASA got back a big load from the space station, in this case more than half a ton of experiments and equipment.

Thursday’s dramatic arrival of the world’s first commercial space carrier capped a nine-day, flawless test flight.

The trip began with the May 22 launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral and continued through the space station docking three days later and the departure a scant six hours before hitting the water.

The returning bell-shaped Dragon resembled NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft of the 1960s and 1970s as its three red-and-white striped parachutes opened. But the new ship also represents NASA’s future in space.