Editing Space Coverage
Out of their flight suits, back into their space suits; SpaceX just tweeted that the crew of Inspiration4 have suited up ahead of their return to Earth.
While some spacecraft land on the ground, Crew Dragon, the SpaceX capsule that carried the Inspiration4 crew to orbit, does water landings. It’s much like the method used by NASA astronauts to return to Earth during the Apollo, Gemini and Mercury eras. The splashdowns occur off the coast of Florida, either in the Gulf of Mexico or in the Atlantic Ocean — SpaceX has selected the Atlantic for this mission. Two NASA missions returning crews from the International Space Station have splashed down safely in the past year, one of them at night.
Because the Inspiration4 mission is considerably higher than earlier Crew Dragon missions, it started dropping in altitude on Friday night, to about 225 miles from 360 miles, in order to get into better position for re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Dragon will perform two burns tonight to reduce the spacecraft’s altitude to ~365km and line up the ground track with the landing site
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 17, 2021
Later on Saturday, shortly before preparing to land, the vehicle will jettison what SpaceX calls the “trunk” section of the spacecraft — the cylindrical compartment below the gumdrop-shaped capsule. The trunk will burn up in the atmosphere.
Then the capsule will begin firing its thrusters to drop out of orbit. Once it is low enough in Earth’s atmosphere, parachutes will deploy to gently lower the capsule into the sea.
The crew of Inspiration4 lifted off on time from the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday at 8:02 p.m. Eastern time. It was a flawless flight to orbit.
The evening sky was nearly devoid of clouds when the nine engines of the Falcon 9 rocket ignited, lifting the rocket and its passengers to space.
Once the flight launched, the crew’s enthusiasm was unbowed by the forces pressing down on them, as a video inside the capsule showed Sian Proctor, the flight’s pilot, and Christopher Sembroski, the mission specialist, fist-bumping.
The capsule then headed to an orbit some 360 miles up, higher than the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope. Indeed, the Inspiration4 crew will be farther from Earth than anyone else since the space shuttles worked on the Hubble in the 1990s.
After three days in orbit, the crew of the Inspiration4 mission — the first trip to orbit where no one aboard is a professional astronaut — is headed home to Earth.
The Crew Dragon capsule that is carrying the astronauts is scheduled to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida at 7:06 p.m. Eastern time. SpaceX will stream video of the landing and recovery of the capsule on their YouTube page.
In the event that weather prevented the astronauts from returning, the crew could circle the planet for an extended period of time. In response to a CNBC reporter’s question about the potential for a delayed return to Earth because of weather or other factors, Jared Isaacman, the billionaire who commands the mission and financed it, said on Tuesday they would be able to stay in space for “about a week.”
Christopher Sembroski, 42, of Everett, Wash., works in data engineering for Lockheed Martin. During college, Mr. Sembroski worked as a counselor at Space Camp, an educational program in Huntsville, Ala., that offers children and families a taste of what life as an astronaut is like. He also volunteered for ProSpace, a nonprofit advocacy group that pushed to open space to more people.
Mr. Sembroski described himself as “that guy behind the scenes, that’s really helping other people accomplish their goals and to take center stage.”
He is the mission specialist for Inspiration4, and responsible for certain tasks during the mission.
Sian Proctor, 51, is a community college professor from Tempe, Ariz.
Dr. Proctor, who is African American and holds a doctorate in science education, had come close to becoming an astronaut the old-fashioned way. She said that in 2009, she was among 47 finalists whom NASA selected from 3,500 applications. The space agency chose nine new astronauts that year. Dr. Proctor was not one of them.
She applied twice more and was not even among the finalists.
She still pursued her space dreams in other ways. In 2013, Dr. Proctor was one of six people who lived for four months in a small building on the side of a Hawaiian volcano, part of an effort financed by NASA to study the isolation and stresses of a long trip to Mars.
She is the pilot on the Inspiration4 mission, the first Black woman to serve as the pilot of a spacecraft.
Hayley Arceneaux, 29, is a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis. Almost two decades ago, Ms. Arceneaux, who grew up in the small town of St. Francisville, La., was a patient at St. Jude when bone cancer was diagnosed in her left leg, just above the knee. Ms. Arceneaux went through chemotherapy, an operation to install prosthetic leg bones and long sessions of physical therapy.
“When I grow up, I want to be a nurse at St. Jude,” she said in a video shown at the ceremony in 2003. “I want to be a mentor to patients. When they come in, I’ll say, ‘I had that when I was little, and I’m doing good.’”
Last year, Ms. Arceneaux was hired by St. Jude. She works with children with leukemia and lymphoma.
Ms. Arceneaux is the youngest American ever to travel to orbit. She will also be the first person with a prosthetic body part to go to space. She is the health officer for the mission.
He grew up in New Jersey and in ninth grade started a company offering help to befuddled computer users. One of his clients was a payment processing company, and its chief executive offered him a job. Mr. Isaacman took the job and dropped out of high school at age 16. He obtained a general educational development certificate, or G.E.D.
After half a year, Mr. Isaacman figured out a new way to handle payment processing, and in 1999 he founded his own company in his parents’ basement. That evolved into Shift4 Payments, which went public in June 2020.
Mr. Isaacman started flying as a hobby, learning to pilot more and more advanced aircraft including military fighter jets. In 2012, he started a second company called Draken International, which owns fighter jets and provides training for pilots in the United States military. He has since sold Draken but still flies fighter jets for fun.
Last year, Mr. Isaacman wanted to invest in SpaceX, which remains a privately held company, but missed the latest investment offering by the company. Mr. Isaacman tried to convince SpaceX officials of his enthusiasm by telling them he wanted to buy a trip to orbit someday. That led to conversations that resulted in Mr. Isaacman undertaking the Inspiration4 mission. He is serving as the mission’s commander.