After a beautiful launch to orbit and an exciting splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, the crew of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 has successfully completed the first all civilian mission to space.
SpaceX sent the crew of Inspiration4 on a three day mission orbiting the Earth, without any professional astronauts to command the mission or pilot the Dragon spacecraft. The launch was funded by billionaire tech founder Jared Isaacman, who selected three additional civilian crew mates to join the mission.
Inspiration4 was more than just a mission to space. Isaacman decided to use the mission to raise funds for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. After setting a fundraising goal of $200M, Isaacman selected crewmembers that best represented the values of the mission to help raise awareness of the mission and funds.
Haley Arceneaux was the first crewmate named to the mission, as an ambassador for St. Jude and as the mission’s medical officer. Hayley currently works as a Physician’s Assistant at St. Jude where she also received treatment for bone cancer as a child. Dr. Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski won their seats on the mission and will serve as mission pilot and mission specialist.
Following a 24 hour delay, SpaceX successfully launched Inspiration4 into space from Launch Pad 39A just after 8pm ET, Wednesday, September 15th. The first stage of the Falcon9 rocket returned to Earth, landing on one of the company’s barges in the Atlantic Ocean. Soon after the Dragon capsule reached speeds of up to 17,000 miles per hour and orbital insertion.
Onboard cameras revealed the crew’s zero gravity indicator- a plush service dog representing the working dogs at St. Jude Research Hospitals. Cameras of the crew cut out soon after orbital insertion, but updates from SpaceX and the Inspiration4 team shared a view of Earth from the Dragon’s cupola.
On the second day of the mission the crew held a ten minute live stream from space. During this time the crew talked about their experience so far, shared a view from the cupola right as the sun set and an aurora revealed itself. Haley demonstrated the use of some of the medical equipment the crew was using to conduct research, Dr. Sian shared some of the artwork she was creating in space, and Chris played a tune on a ukulele that was going to be auctioned off.
The Dragon capsule reached a maximum altitude of 597 km, before descending on the second night in preparation for their return to Earth. SpaceX ran a Dragon tracker for the duration of the mission giving followers the chance to watch for the crew pass overhead on one of its nearly fifty orbits of Earth.
Splashdown of the capsule and crew came early in the evening off the Space Coast, in the Atlantic Ocean. Residents nearby report hearing the sonic boom as Dragon made its fiery reentry passing through Earth’s atmosphere.
SpaceX recovery crews secured Dragon before pulling it onboard the company’s recovery ship where the crew made a triumphant, and slightly unsteady, exit. Following recovery the crew underwent quick medical checks before being flown back to Kennedy Space Center via helicopter.