INSPIRATION 4 BACK ON EARTH
Published on 13 October 2021
The billionaire Jared Isaacman's private mission with three guest passengers concluded with the splashdown of SpaceX's Crew Dragon on 18 September. The aim of helping St Jude's Hospital was reached with more than $200 million in donations.
Inspiration 4 was the first time a ship orbited the Earth with only non-professional astronauts. This mission, carried out by private firm SpaceX, was wholly financed by American billionaire Jared Isaacman, who invited three of his compatriots aboard. After almost three days in orbit, the Crew Dragon Resilience capsule (second flight) splashed down on 18 September off the coast of Florida at 7 p.m. local time.
“WE LOVED SPACE“
Remember that the crew was made up of Jared Isaacman, who took on the role of commander, Hayley Arcenaux (medical assistant, representing St Jude’s Hospital for children suffering from cancer), Christopher Sembroski (engineer at Lockheed Martin) and Sian Proctor (geologist and specialist in communication of science). The latter took on the role of pilot. In a previous article, we explained the selection methods.
The Crew Dragon Resilience capsule, already used for NASA’s Crew-1 flight, was modified, with the addition of a hemispherical porthole, offering spectacular views of the Earth.
As planned and at the end of a mission of almost three days, Crew Dragon Resilience began its return to Earth. After ejecting its service module (called trunk) and closing its cone over the porthole, Crew Dragon re-entered the atmosphere, protected by its thermal shield. SpaceX stated that in this phase the craft was surrounded by air heated to 2000°C!
Below, the recording of the live feed of the return by SpaceX.
After the re-entry phase, the capsule continued its descent in free fall, then opened its four parachutes. Splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida took place at 7 p.m. local time on Saturday 18 September (at 2.02 a.m. on 19 September for mainland France). The Inspiration 4 mission therefore lasted 2 days and 23 hours. Jared Isaacman welcomed their successful return with the following statement: “We loved space, but it’s great to be back home.” His three crew-mates also emphasised the exceptional nature of their trip.
200 MILLION DOLLARS FOR ST JUDE’S
This first completely private mission (which, however, saw its members in training for five months), also featured some scientific objectives (study of radiation on astronauts, particularly) and, above all, raising donations for St Jude’s Hospital in Memphis. Since 1962 it has specialised in the treatment of children with cancer. In the Inspiration 4 crew, Hayley Arcenaux symbolises this determination and the hope medical research brings. Indeed, this 29-year-old woman was treated at St. Jude’s for bone cancer when she was a child. She even wears a titanium prosthesis. Today, she is a medical assistant at St. Jude’s.
Throughout the preparations for the mission then during flight, there were calls for donations for St. Jude‘s. Before take-off, the Inspiration 4 website counter displayed slightly more than $32 million in donations, in addition to $100 million directly given by Jared Isaacman. When they returned, the counter had exceeded $50 million, but even with the billionaire’s contribution, the planned and announced target of $200 million seemed difficult to achieve. Except that SpaceX boss, Elon Musk decided to give it a boost (see his tweet below).
With this $50 million dollar contribution, the $200 million barrier for St. Jude’s was therefore exceeded.
In the coming months, several private tourist flights are planned. Russia will carry one out as well with its Soyuz, taking Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant Yozo Hirano, responsible for documenting the voyage. In 2022, American company Axiom Space will use SpaceX’s services for the Ax-1 mission which will transport 3 billionaires to the ISS, accompanied by former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria. Here again, a philanthropic aspect and a scientific element are planned.