Sept. 18 (Reuters) – The newly created quartet of citizen astronauts including the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission splashed safely in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida on Saturday, completing a three-day flight of the first all-civilian crew ever launched in Earth orbit.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, was parachuted into calm seas around 7 p.m. EDT, shortly before sunset, following an automated re-entry descent, SpaceX showed during a live broadcast. on his YouTube channel.
In less than an hour, the four smiling crew members were seen emerging one by one from the capsule’s side hatch after the vehicle, visibly burnt on the outside, was hoisted from the ocean to the deck of ‘a SpaceX salvage ship.
Each of the four stood for a few moments on the deck in front of the capsule to greet and greet the cameras. Each was then escorted to a medical station on board for the examinations they were to undergo at sea.
Afterwards, the amateur astronauts were to be returned by helicopter to Cape Canaveral for a reunion with their loved ones, SpaceX said.
The return from orbit followed a dive into the Earth’s atmosphere generating frictional heat that raised temperatures around the exterior of the capsule to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,927 degrees Celsius). The astronauts’ flight suits, equipped with special ventilation systems, were designed to keep them cool if the cabin got warm.
Applause was heard from SpaceX’s flight control center on the outskirts of Los Angeles as the first parachutes deployed, slowing the descent of the capsule to about 15 miles per hour (24.14 kilometers per hour) before the ditching, and again when the craft struck the water.
The astronauts were once again cheered as they climbed onto the deck of the salvage ship.
The first to come out was Hayely Arceneaux, 29, a medical assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Center in Tennessee, herself a survivor of childhood bone cancer who became the youngest person to ever reach Earth orbit. during the Inspiration4 mission.
It was quickly followed by geoscientist and former NASA astronaut candidate Sian Proctor, 51, aerospace data engineer and Air Force veteran Chris Sembroski, 42, and finally billionaire benefactor and “mission commander. from the crew Jared Isaacman, 38.
SpaceX, the private rocket company founded by Elon Musk, CEO of electric automaker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O), supplied the spacecraft, launched it, flew it from suburban headquarters of Los Angeles and managed the recovery operation.
The Inspiration4 team took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on Wednesday on top of one of SpaceX’s reusable double-stage Falcon 9 rockets.
In less than three hours, the crew’s capsule had reached a cruising orbital altitude of just over 363 miles (585 km) – higher than the International Space Station or the Hubble Space Telescope, and farthest than ‘a human has flown from Earth since the end of NASA’s Apollo lunar program in 1972..
It also marked the first flight of Musk’s new space tourism business and a leap forward over competitors also offering rocket rides to well-heeled customers willing to pay a small fortune to experience the exhilaration of spaceflight. and earn amateur astronaut wings.
“It was a hell of a ride for us,” said Isaacman, managing director of e-commerce company Shift4 Payments Inc (FOUR.N), inside the capsule moments after landing on the water. “We’re just getting started.”
He had paid an undisclosed but apparently huge sum – estimated by Time magazine to be around $ 200 million – to his billionaire colleague Musk for the four seats aboard the Crew Dragon.
Isaacman designed the flight primarily to raise awareness and donate for Saint-Jude, one of his favorite causes, where Arceneaux now works.
The Inspiration4 crew played no role in piloting the spacecraft, which was operated by ground flight crews and on-board guidance systems, although Isaacman and Proctor are both licensed pilots.
The successful launch and safe return of the mission is expected to boost the nascent astrotourism industry.
SpaceX already ranks as the most established player in the burgeoning constellation of commercial rocket companies, having launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the NASA space station.
Two rival operators, Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc (SPCE.N) and Blue Origin, have launched their own space tourism services in recent months, with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson and founder of Amazon.com (AMZN. O) Jeff Bezos, each accompany for the ride.
These suborbital flights, lasting a few minutes, were short leaps from the three days of Inspiration4 in orbit.
Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio
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