After three days in orbit, a medical assistant, a community college professor, a data engineer and the billionaire who funded their trip have returned to Earth, heralding a new era of space travel with a spectacular and successful landing on Saturday. evening in the Atlantic Ocean.
The mission, known as Inspiration4, touched down off the coast of Florida at 7:06 p.m. Saturday. Each step of the return was carried out on time, without any problem.
“Welcome home to planet Earth,” Kris Young, director of space operations at SpaceX, told the crew as the capsule floated in the water. SpaceX, the rocket company launched 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 last three days
“Your mission has shown the world that space is for all of us and that ordinary people can have an extraordinary impact on the world around them,” said Mr. Young.
“It was a hell of a ride for us,” said Jared Isaacman, the 38-year-old billionaire who ran Inspiration4. “We’re just getting started. “
About an hour earlier, the capsule, named Resilience, fired its thrusters for 15 minutes to exit its orbit. The parachutes deployed, slowing the resilience to around 15 miles per hour when it hit the water. In less than an hour, the four crew members exited the spacecraft, one at a time, each beaming with excitement as recovery teams assisted them.
It was the latest achievement in a year of space flight milestones.
A few months ago, two famous billionaires – Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, and Richard Branson, head of the Virgin Corporate Empire – went to the edge of space in vehicles built and operated by companies that they had created, perhaps at the start of a wave of wealthy space tourists making brief jaunts up and down the planet.
Mr. Isaacman, who is not as well known as Mr. Bezos and Mr. Branson, has now gone much further – at an altitude of 366 miles, higher than the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope, and speed orbital of over 17,000 miles per hour.
His private space flight – the first to go into orbit without a professional astronaut on board – also aimed to illustrate what a more accessible future in space might look like. His three teammates started out as strangers chosen to embody positive traits of humanity: hope, prosperity and generosity.
At the time of their launch, the four astronauts were a tight-knit group: Mr. Isaacman, a high school dropout who founded Shift4 Payments, a company that processes payments for restaurants and other businesses; Hayley Arceneaux, 29, medical assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Center in Memphis; Sian Proctor, 51, a professor at Phoenix Community College who became the first black woman to serve as a pilot on a space mission; and Christopher Sembroski, 42, a data engineer who lives in western Washington.
For a brief moment, there was a record 14 people in orbit at the same time: the four Inspiration4 crew members, three Chinese astronauts on the country’s nascent space station, and an international crew of seven astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
Chinese astronauts returned to Earth on Friday. With the return of Inspiration4, the extraterrestrial human population numbers only seven on the International Space Station.
The Inspiration4 mission was Mr. Musk’s last triumph. The Crew Dragon is the same spacecraft used to take NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
Now there could be a new market for private orbit travel. “There is a lot of interest,” said Benji Reed, senior director of human spaceflight at SpaceX, of the flights at Crew Dragon in a press conference call after the water landing. “And he’s growing up now, a lot.”
Orbital spaceflight is still far too expensive for anyone except the richest of the rich, but by giving people who represent society as a whole a chance, Isaacman said he hoped to inspire a future generation to dream bigger.
The crew members underwent months of intense training, similar to what NASA astronauts must learn before embarking on SpaceX rockets.
All four astronauts appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Netflix has produced a documentary series following their training, and a final episode of their flight will air at the end of the month.
Takeoff on Wednesday evening went on time and flawlessly. After a few propellant burns, the capsule was in orbit 366 miles above Earth, the tallest astronauts departed from a mission to repair the Hubble.
Then, at least for the general public, the mission fell silent for a day, with only a few crude updates posted on Twitter. As a private mission and not managed by NASA, the crew had no obligation to make public appearances.
Their accounts on Twitter and Instagram, which have been actively updated in recent weeks as they prepare for the launch, have remained silent in orbit.
The crew had a video call with patients in St. Jude. One of the children asked if there were cows on the moon. “I hope there will be a day,” replied Dr Proctor.
Upon landing, Inspiration4 had raised more than $ 160 million, including $ 100 million from Mr. Isaacman, for the hospital, which treats children at no cost to families and aims to find cures for cancer and d ‘other diseases.
Late saturdaySpaceX’s Musk said on Twitter that he would add a contribution of $ 50 million, pushing the fundraising effort above its goal of $ 200 million.
The crew members also had a call with actor Tom Cruise. An online betting app also reported that Mr. Isaacman had placed the first bets from space.
On Friday afternoon, the crew rang a closing bell which they orbit for the New York Stock Exchange and later presented a 10-minute live update on YouTube as ‘they were zooming around the planet.
“We see the world every 90 minutes, that’s how fast we move, it’s pretty amazing,” Isaacman said during the broadcast from orbit.
Todd Ericson, the Inspiration4 mission director, said the crew had problems adapting to space, but it was “about the same” as what professional astronauts have experienced. “This shows that average men and women are no more or less prone to space adaptation syndrome than NASA astronauts,” Mr. Ericson said, “which I think will be amazing science. that this mission brings. “
Other entertainment projects in the works include a reality TV show, aptly titled “Who Wants To Be An Astronaut?” , Which is scheduled to air on the Discovery Channel. The winner must launch a SpaceX rocket to the space station.
After this mission, the Crew Dragon capsule used by Inspiration4 will be refurbished and used for another private mission to be launched early next year. This mission, which is operated by Houston-based company Axiom Space, involves taking a professional astronaut and three clients, paying $ 55 million each, on a tour of the space station.