Complete success for SpaceX's first private mission
Steph Deschamps / September 19, 2021
The first four SpaceX space tourists returned to Earth Saturday night after spending three days in space, capping off the first orbital mission in history with no professional astronauts on board.
The Dragon capsule resisted the vertiginous descent thanks to its heat shield, then was braked by four huge parachutes. The landing in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida, took place at the scheduled time (19:06 local time).
It's been quite a journey for us, and it's only just begun, said the commander on board, billionaire Jared Isaacman, shortly after the ditching, whose goal was to open the doors to space a little more.
A SpaceX ship then retrieved the capsule, before the hatch was opened. The four passengers, smiling ear to ear and waving their arms in the air in joy, then exited one by one.
They were then to be transported by helicopter to the Kennedy Space Center, from where they took off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday night, and where they will be reunited with their families.
Congratulations, Inspiration4, tweeted SpaceX boss Elon Musk after the ditching, using the mission's official name.
The four novices Jared Isaacman, who chartered the mission, and three other Americans spent three days orbiting the Earth, traveling farther than the International Space Station (ISS), up to 590 km in altitude.
Traveling at about 28,000 km/h, they circled the globe more than 15 times each day.
The stated goal of the mission was to mark a turning point in the democratization of space, by proving that the cosmos is also accessible to crews who have not been hand-picked and trained for years, as astronauts are.
Jared Isaacman, 38, is the head of a financial services company and a seasoned pilot. He paid tens and tens of millions of dollars to SpaceX to experience these moments (the exact price was not disclosed).
He offered three seats to strangers: Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old physician's assistant who became the youngest American woman in space; Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old Earth science teacher; and Chris Sembroski, a 42-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran.
Before the trip, their training lasted only about six months compared to years for professional astronauts.
Once up there, they collected data (heart rate, sleep, oxygen saturation in the blood, cognitive abilities) which should help to better understand the effect of the space environment on beginners.
But they also enjoyed the view of the cosmos through a brand new observation dome installed on Dragon, were able to talk with the actor Tom Cruise from their ship, eat pizza or enjoy the joys of weightlessness with music.
The mission also serves as a huge fundraiser for St. Jude Children's Hospital (Memphis, Tennessee), where Hayley Arceneaux works after being treated for cancer as a child.
In the ship were various items -- including a ukulele, which Chris Sembroski played a few notes of live from the ship on Friday that are now to be auctioned off to benefit the hospital. Nearly $154 million has been raised so far, including $100 million donated by Jared Isaacman.
SpaceX plans other space tourism flights. The next one in January 2022, with three businessmen on board.