The four members of the Inspiration4 crew are back safe and sound on Earth after their historic all-civilian three-day space trip. The mission was the world's first spaceflight to orbit without a single professional astronaut onboard as well as a handful of other records and firsts.
The crew – physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux, data engineer Christopher Sembroski, geology professor Dr Sian Proctor and the billionaire entrepreneur who funded the trip, Jared Isaacman – splashed down in the SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule in the Atlantic just off the coast of Florida on Saturday, September 18 at 7 pm local time.
"Your mission has shown the world that space is for all of us," SpaceX Mission Control radioed as the spacecraft came in. "It was a heck of a ride for us, and we're just getting started," Isaacman tweeted in reply.
As well as raising money and awareness for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the charitable cause at the heart of this mission, the crew also spent the time conducting medical experiments and recording health data about themselves. As they haven’t gone through the rigorous training professional astronauts undergo, there could be some interesting insights into the effects their short jaunt to space might have on their bodies.
Inspiration4 has beaten its $200 million goal for St. Judes, a pediatric treatment and research facility that focuses in particular on children's leukemia and other cancers. Isaacman donated $100 million and SpaceX owner Elon Musk donated $50 million, pushing the total over the goal line. Arceneaux was actually treated there for bone cancer as a child and is now a physician assistant there. "I was a little girl going through cancer treatment just like a lot of you, and if I can do this, you can do this," Arceneaux told patients at St. Jude from space.
While in space, the crew received calls from Tom Cruise, who is going to space on his own SpaceX flight to film a movie on the International Space Station (ISS) tentatively scheduled for October, as well as Bono, the lead singer of Irish rock band U2.
Details and footage of life in the capsule while they were in space have not been plentiful so far. This is due to the limited number of ground station passes to transmit video, according to Issacman. "NASA and other government users are going to get priority. I suspect a lot of footage will be released shortly. We had quite a few cameras on board," he tweeted.
Not only was this the first mission to orbit made up solely of non-professional astronauts, but it also broke a few other records too. At age 29, Arceneaux is the youngest American and the first person with a prosthesis to go to space, while Dr Sian Proctor is the first-ever Black female spacecraft pilot. Both Arceneaux and Proctor's firsts pave the way for making space travel more accessible and inclusive.
The Crew Dragon capsule reached a higher orbit around the Earth than the ISS, with an altitude of 585 kilometers (363 miles), over 160 kilometers (100 miles) higher than the space station, and even Hubble. Also, incredibly, the day that they got to space they helped break the record for the highest number of humans in orbit at once. The three Chinese taikonauts returned to Earth the very next day, so it was a brief but historic window
The crew's preparation to get to space, which started just six months ago, and subsequent success has been documented in the Netflix documentary Countdown: Inspiration Mission to Space.