On Wednesday, September 15th, our friends at SpaceX launched the world’s first all-civilian crew on a voyage orbiting the earth. And three days later, on Saturday evening at 7:06 p.m. EDT, the crew safely splashed down off the Florida coast to end their historic mission. The rocket used for this mission, launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad-39A, was a Falcon 9, the same used to send astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). It propelled Crew Dragon Resilience to space on a three-day mission that saw the four astronauts successfully orbit the earth at an altitude of around 364 miles (585 kilometers), the furthest distance from the earth that humans have traveled since the Space Shuttle in 1999. The historic Inspiration4 flight included crew members Jared Isaacman (Mission Commander), Pilot Dr. Sian Proctor (Pilot), Hayley Arceneaux (Medical Officer) and Chris Sembroski (Mission Specialist). The mission was all the more remarkable because it was a crew of civilians who were not professional astronauts, and they had trained for only six months to launch to space.
The flight was also part of a massive fundraising effort for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Jared Isaacman, billionaire and founder of Shift4Payments, purchased the flight from SpaceX in order to raise $200 million for childhood cancer research. In addition to Isaacman, the crew also included St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Physician Assistant Hayley Arceneaux, Geoscience Professor Dr. Sian Proctor, and Air Force veteran/Lockheed Martin Engineer Chris Sembroski. The mission planned to include ultrasounds, microbe samples and a variety of in-flight health experiments (measuring fluid shifts, recording ECG activity, blood oxygen levels, heart rates, etc.) on the human bodies of ordinary citizens who have not been previously carefully screened and exhaustively trained as professional astronauts. The study of the effects of spaceflight on human health and performance was done in collaboration with SpaceX, the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine and investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine.
Inspiration4 marks the third private spaceflight of the summer, following the shorter, suborbital flights by Richard Branson on a Virgin Galactic spacecraft and Jeff Bezos on a Blue Origin orbital rocket. Although no new dates have been set at this point, it is clear that Inspiration4 has made real the idea of making it to orbit as a passive passenger and opening up space for transportation and other possible uses. Indeed, the private space tourism industry has just taken off!
Congratulations to the crew and to SpaceX.