The first civilian space crew returns to Earth
SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission returned safely to Earth as the four space tourists landed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida on Saturday, near where they took off three days ago.
The quartet of space tourists have been carried by parachutes aboard their Dragon capsule, which has carried them independently around orbit since their launch into space.
The successful launch and return of the mission opens a new chapter of private space travel – so hope Tesla founder Elon Musk and his private company.
It comes on the heels of other pioneering flights into space by Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos in recent months, although they have lasted longer and gone much further.
“Welcome to the second space age,” Todd “Leif” Erickson, mission manager for Inspiration4, told reporters on a conference call after the crew’s return.
The mission was the first to go into orbit without a professional astronaut. Instead, four civilians led by billionaire Jason Isaacman sat aboard SpaceX’s fully automated Dragon capsule.
The capsule, dubbed Resilience, reached an extraordinary altitude of 363 miles — 100 miles above the International Space Station — after liftoff Wednesday night, before returning through the atmosphere early Saturday evening.
At about 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT), the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule parachuted into calm seas after an automated re-entry landing.
Within an hour, the four crew members were seen emerging from the capsule’s side hatch after the vehicle, visibly burned on the outside, was lifted from the ocean onto the deck of the SpaceX rescue ship.
Each of the four — Jared Isakman, 38, Hayley Arsenault, 29, Chris Sembrowski, 42, and Sian Proctor, 51 — waved off deck and gave a thumbs up before being escorted to a medical station on board for checks at sea.
“On behalf of SpaceX, welcome back to Planet Earth,” the SpaceX mission controller said after its launch. “Your mission has shown the world that space is for all of us.”
In response, Mr. Isakman said, “It has been a journey for us…we are just getting started.”
They were later flown by helicopter to Cape Canaveral to be reunited with their loved ones.