After three days in orbit, a physician assistant, a community college professor, a data engineer and the billionaire who financed their trip arrived back on Earth, heralding a new era of space travel with a dramatic and successful Saturday evening landing in Atlantic Ocean. The mission, with is known as Inspiration4 , splashed down off the Florida coast at 7:06 p.m. on Saturday. Each step of the return unfolded on schedule, without problems.
It was the first time a crew composed of private citizens had been launched into orbit, without professional astronauts aboard. The mission took the crew members much farther out than either Virgim Galactic’s Richard Branson or Blue Origin’s (and Amazon’s) Jeff Bezons traveled on their recent jaunts above the planet. And the Insrpiration4 trip helps solidify the notion of sending everyday people into space, for tourism, futuristic international travel and perhaps even colonization of the cosmos.
The mission was bankrolled by Isaacman, a former pilot and the billionaire founder of a payment processing company, who offered up the other three seats to members of the general public: physician assiatant Hayley Arceneaux, data engineer Christopher Sembroski and community college professor Sian Proctor (who’s now also the first Black women to pilot a spacecraft).
“Welcome home to planet Earth,” Kris Young, space operations director at SpaceX, said to the crew as the capsule bobbed in the water. SpaceX, the rocket company started by Elon Musk, built the Falcon 9 rocket that launched the Inspiration4 mission as well as the Crew Dragon capsule where the astronauts spent the past three days.
The crew spent its time orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes (about 100 miles farther out than the International Space Station); checking out the view of our planet from a specially installed glass cupola on SpaceX’s Dragon capsule; conducting various science experiments; and occasionally taking breaks to play with a plushie pup (also known as the mission’s “zero gravity indicator”). Physiological information about the crew was collected to assess changes in behavior and cognition, including data on heart rate, blood oxygen saturation and how well the team members slept.
After this mission, the Crew Dragon capsule used by Inspiration4 will be refurbished and used for another private mission that is to launch early next year. That mission, which is operated by the Houston-based company Axiom Space, is to take one professional astronaut and three customers, paying $55 million each, for a visit to the space station.