SpaceX capsule returns four civilians from orbit, capping off first tourism mission

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On Saturday evening, four individuals (four civilians from orbit) returned to Earth onboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule after a three-day interplanetary adventure, marking the end of the first-ever mission to Earth’s orbit flown exclusively by tourists or other non-astronauts.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule splashes down into the ocean off the coast of Florida.
Off the coast of Florida, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule splashes down into the water.

Over the company’s webcast, billionaire and “Inspiration4” mission commander Jared Isaacman could be heard stating, “Thanks so much SpaceX, it was a heck of a journey for us.”

The crew saw films and sometimes heard SpaceX’s control of its mission from within its entirely autonomous spacecraft before the nerve-wracking process re-entered the atmosphere of the Earth. After reaching speeds of almost 17,000 miles per hour, the spaceship exploited Earth’s dense layer of air to slow down, hitting temperatures of up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit in the process.

As it dropped back into the ocean, the Crew Dragon capsule, which is design to keep cabin temperatures below 85 degrees, used its heat shield to shelter the crew from the intense heat and buildup of plasma.

The astronauts were seen smiling and waving to the Livestream cameras after exiting the spaceship and before being carried back to Florida by helicopter.

However, the flight did not appear to be completely faultless from a technical aspect. During a post-flight briefing, SpaceX’s director of crew mission management, Benji Reed, said, “You know, we had a couple of issues that we worked on, we did work something on the Waste Management System.” “But that was fine,” he remarked, “and the staff was happy and healthy.”

The problem, according to Inspiration4 mission director Todd Ericson, was with the waste management system’s fan. As a result, the SpaceX team created “a backup plan.”

Ericson added, “My hat’s off to them.”

Reed also said that a temperature sensor on one of the Draco engines used to propel the capsule into space had malfunctioned, but the company responded by turning off the “double redundant” sensor.

“It’s never been a risk since Draco was unneeded,” Reed added.

The Inspiration4 crew after splashdown.
After splashdown, the Inspiration4 crew.

On the other side, NASA authorities say the Crew Dragon is the safest ever flew crew vehicle. Before this party of space tourists embarked on their multi-day adventure, the craft had previously performed two successful missions to space with professional astronauts on board.

A journey with SpaceX and its CEO, Elon Musk was funded and arranged by Isaacman (38); Hayley Arceneaux (29), a survivor of childhood cancer and physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Sian Proctor (51), and a Ph.D. geologist and college teacher were also among passengers, as were Chris Sembroski (38). A 42-year-old Lockheed Martin employee and ardent space enthusiast who won his seat in an online lottery.

Isaacman framed the expedition as a St. Jude fundraiser, and by Saturday evening, it had raised $160 million of its $200 million goals.

Musk immediately tweeted, “Count me in for $50 million,” putting the fundraising $10 million over its goal.

Though they aren’t the first civilians to travel to space, their trip, dubbed Inspiration4, was remarkable since it did not include a stay at the International Space Station under the supervision of experienced astronauts, as previous space tourist missions have done. Rather, the four first-time astronauts have spent the past three days free-flying aboard their 13-foot-wide capsule at a 350-mile height – 100 miles higher than the International Space Station and higher than any human has gone in decades.

The people on board said they planned to do some scientific research on how their bodies react to being in space, spend time with their families, stare out a giant dome-shaped window known as the “cupola,” and listen to music during their stay in space. Proctor also showed off some artwork she created with metallic markers during her stay. And Sembroski strummed a ukelele that will auction off as part of the St. Jude benefit during a live stream shared with the public on Friday.

The Inspiration4 Twitter account also posted a video of Arceneaux conversing with her St. Jude patients, and Isaacman rang the New York Stock Exchange’s closing bell via satellite link on Friday afternoon.

Aside from that, the public received very few updates while the crew was in orbit. On Friday afternoon, nearly two days after they launched, the first live audio or photos from within the crew capsule were released.

Public access to prior SpaceX Crew Dragon trips, all for NASA and delivered to the International Space Station professional astronauts. From launch until docking with the International Space Station, the space agency and its dozens of communications personnel have worked alongside SpaceX to broadcast virtually every moment of the mission.

However, when it came to queries regarding the crew’s itinerary and how they were feeling while in orbit, this mission primarily kept the public in the dark. Inspiration4 is a private, business mission. While the spacecraft of the Crew Dragon was mostly sponsored by contributions and SpaceX uses NASA’s facilities to assist its flights. Consequently, clients of SpaceX must only be as transparent as they wish.

The crew of #Inspiration4 was in space a fantastic first day! Since its launch, more than 15 orbits have made around the earth using the Dragon Cupola in its entirety. pic.twitter.com/StK4BTWSA6

— Inspiration4, September 17, 2021 (@inspiration4X).

There could be a number of reasons why space travelers avoided the media during their journey. It’s possible, for example, that the crew wasn’t in the best of spirits when they first entered orbit. “Many astronauts report motion sickness symptoms immediately after arriving in space and again just after returning to Earth,” according to a NASA research document, adding getting a good night’s sleep in orbit was “also a severe difficulty for many crew members aboard shuttle missions.” It’s also possible that the four inexperienced astronauts desired seclusion or simply wanted to enjoy the event without having to talk about it.

However, positive feedback about their experience could be vital. This trip, SpaceX believes, will be the first of many, establishing a new line of business for the corporation in which it will employ Crew Dragon to fly commercial flights with tourists or private researchers rather than only professional astronauts.
SpaceX has already signed contracts for five further commercial missions and at least four more NASA-funded missions.

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