First all-civilian crew completes orbital mission
SpaceX’s Dragon capsule splashed down Saturday afternoon, wrapping up its history-making chapter in space travel with a list of firsts.
The four members of the first all-civilian crew to orbit the Earth arrived off the coast of Florida at 4:06 Pacific time Saturday. “All-civilian” means these four, who clearly had the right stuff, went to space and back without a career astronaut aboard. That’s one “first.”
Here’s another. It was the first splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean in more than 50 years.
After circling the Earth since Wednesday, Dragon underwent a series of phasing burns to leave the orbit. After re-entering the atmosphere, the spacecraft deployed its two drogue and four main parachutes for a soft water landing.
After the splashdown, the astronauts were quickly brought from the capsule and onto a recovery ship.
The civilian astronauts are mission commander Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments and a pilot; Medical Officer Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and a pediatric cancer survivor; Mission Specialist Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran and aerospace data engineer; and mission pilot Dr. Sian Proctor, a geoscientist and entrepreneur.
And here’s another “first” for the list. Dr. Proctor is the first black woman to pilot a spacecraft. Earlier, she said she hopes she’s inspiring other women of color in their dreams.
After the splashdown, SpaceX transported Dragon to Cape Canaveral for inspection.
Besides making history, Inspiration4 helped children and performed some science.
The mission was designed to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Mr. Isaacman, the billionaire who funded the mission, contributed the first $100 million of that.
“I truly want us to live in a world 50 or 100 years from now where people are jumping in their rockets like the Jetsons, and there are families bouncing around on the moon with their kid in a spacesuit,” Mr. Isaacman, 38, told The Associated Press earlier. “I also think if we are going to live in that world, we better conquer childhood cancer along the way.”
And Inspiration4 was designed to study the human body in space, according to spacex.com. During their four days in orbit, the astronauts conducted research designed to help human health on Earth and during future, long spaceflights.
The astronauts also went far and got a great view, thanks to Dragon.
Dragon was as high as 590 kilometers or 366.6 miles above the Earth during its orbits. That’s 100 miles higher than the International Space Station.
SpaceX noted the craft flew farther than any human spaceflight since the space shuttles’ Hubble Telescope missions. And the capsule’s new cupola observation dome was the largest, contiguous space window ever flown.
The entire mission was handled by the private sector. NASA’s only connection was that SpaceX used the historic Cape Canaveral launch pad used by Apollo and space shuttle astronauts. It’s now being leased by SpaceX.
The four astronauts didn’t know each other until March, then underwent six months of training. That included being weightless in a modified aircraft.
And here’s one last statistic to ponder.
In the 60 years since space travel began, 600 people have been to outer space. Maybe “The Jetsons” isn’t that far away.