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Inspiration4 splashes down from first 'all-civilian' Earth orbit mission

September 18, 2021

— Three days after lifting off on a privately-funded mission, the first orbital spaceflight without a professional astronaut on board, the crew of Inspiration4 returned to Earth.

Lowered by parachutes to a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, the first "all-civilian" mission came to its end on Saturday (Sept. 18). SpaceX recovery teams, staged on boats, met the crew on board the Crew Dragon "Resilience" soon after they landed at 7:06 p.m. EDT (2306 GMT).

"Inspiration4, on behalf of SpaceX, welcome home to planet Earth. Your mission has shown the world that space is for all of us and that everyday people can make extraordinary impacts on the world around them," radioed Kris Young, space operations director at SpaceX mission control in Hawthorne, California, moments after splashdown.

"Thanks so much SpaceX, it was a heck of a ride for us," replied Jared Isaacman, Inspiration4 commander. "And we're just getting started!"

The two-day, 23-hour and four-minute mission — the 27th shortest orbital crewed flight in history — was paid for by Isaacman, a billionaire businessmen and fighter jet pilot. The Inspiration4 crew also included Sian Proctor, a geoscientist and artist who became the first Black woman to serve as a spacecraft pilot; medical officer Hayley Arceneaux, a cancer survivor and physician's assistant who at 29 years old was the youngest American and first person with a prosthetic body part to fly into space; and mission specialist Chris Sembroski, an aerospace data engineer.

"We're really proud to share this experience with everyone. We know how fortunate we are to be up here," Isaacman said during a live broadcast from space on Friday. "We're giving all our time right now to science research and to some ukulele playing and trying to raise some good awareness for an important cause for us back on Earth."

Inspiration4 splashdown. Click to enlarge and view video in a pop-up window. (SpaceX)

First announced in February, the quickly-assembled Inspiration4 mission had the goal from the start to raise $200 million to advance pediatric cancer treatment at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The hospital selected Arceneaux, a former patient and member of its staff, to serve as its ambassador on the crew. Proctor and Sembroski were chosen for the crew through competitions that doubled as St. Jude fundraisers.

"A big part of our mission on Inspiration4 is to inspire what can be done here in space and there is an awful lot of it and we've got to get out and explore it. But [we] always [have] our responsibilities that we need to take care of back on Earth," said Isaacman. "And the top of our list right now is conquering childhood cancer. That is why we are supporting St. Jude's."

Orbiting Earth at an altitude higher than the Hubble Space Telescope, the crew took part in medical studies in partnership with the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine and investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine.

"It has been really interesting to see how fluid shifts with this microgravity environment and that is something that scientists are looking at," said Arceneaux, referring to bodily fluids. "We have also been taking several swabs in different parts of our body to evaluate the microbiome and how that changes in these three days in space."

"We have also been giving a bunch of samples, blood samples, for the research teams, as well as doing cognitive tests," she said on Friday.

Inspiration4 in-flight update. Click to enlarge and view video in a pop-up window. (SpaceX)

In addition to science, the crew took full advantage of a cupola — what SpaceX described as the largest continuous window ever flown into space — flying for the first time on this mission. The cupola was swapped in for the mechanism that the Dragon uses to dock to the space station on NASA astronaut missions.

"We have been spending so much time in this cupola," Arceneaux said. "We can put our head in and fit multiple crew members in to see the entire perimeter of Earth, which gives such incredible perspective. And the views, I have to say, are out of this world."

The crew's other activities included holding a live event with a group of St. Jude's patients to answer their questions about space, virtually ringing the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange and speaking with musician Bono and actor Tom Cruise, the latter planning to film a movie aboard the International Space Station.

Proctor used metallic paint pens to create works of art and Sembroski played the ukulele, using an instrument specially-crafted by Martin Guitar for the mission. Both the art and ukele will be put up for auction, in addition to other items flown by the crew, to benefit St. Jude's.

Isaacman also placed what was claimed to be the first bet to be made from space with a sportsbook in Las Vegas. He wagered on the outcomes of a football game and the Super Bowl, pledging his winnings, if any, to St. Jude's.

The Inspiration4 astronauts were the third crew to return from orbit on a SpaceX Dragon and the 34th U.S. mission to splash down. They were the 588th through 591st people to fly into space and the 25th through 28th individuals to do so on a commercial flight.

After being raised out of the water and undergoing initial medical checks, the crew was to be flown to Kennedy Space Center, from where their mission began.


SpaceX's Crew Dragon "Resilience" with the Inspiration4 crew on board splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021 after three days in orbit. (SpaceX)

Inspiration4 crewmates Jared Issacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski and Sian Proctor in Earth orbit on board SpaceX's Crew Dragon "Resilience" on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. (SpaceX)

Inspiration4 commander Jared Issacman looks at Earth through the cupola aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon "Resilience." (SpaceX)

Inspiration4 medical officer Hayley Arceneaux floats into the cupola aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon "Resilience." (SpaceX)

The view from a camera outside of the Crew Dragon "Resilience" looking back into the cupola backdropped by Earth. (SpaceX)

The Inspiration4 crew's and SpaceX's mission patches. (SpaceX)

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