“Thanks so much SpaceX, it was a heck of a ride for us,” billionaire and mission commander Jared Isaacman could be heard saying over the company’s livestream.
The Crew Dragon capsule, which is designed not to allow temperatures to go past 85º in the cabin, used its heat shield to protect the crew against the intense heat and buildup of plasma as it plunged back toward the ocean. During a Netflix documentary about the Inspiration4 mission, Musk described a capsule going through reentry as “like a blazing meteor coming in.”
“And so it’s hard not to get vaporized,” he added.
The spacecraft then deployed two sets of parachutes in quick succession, slowing its descent further, before the capsule splashed down off the coast of Florida. Recovery ships were waiting nearby to haul the capsule out of the water.
Despite the risks, a former NASA chief and career safety officials have said the Crew Dragon is likely the safest crewed vehicle ever flown. And the vehicle had already completed two successful trips to space with professional astronauts on board before this group of space tourists took their multi-day joyride.
Though they’re not the first tourists to travel to orbit, their mission, called Inspiration4, was notable because it did not involve a stay at the International Space Station under the tutelage of professional astronauts, as previous missions involving space tourists have. Rather, the four spaceflight novices have spent the past three days free-flying aboard their 13-foot-wide capsule on their own at about a 350 mile altitude — 100 miles higher than where the ISS is, and higher than any human has flown in decades.
The Inspiration4 Twitter account also shared footage of Arceneaux speaking to her St. Jude patients, and Isaacman rang the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange via satellite feed on Friday afternoon.
Other than that, few updates were shared with the public while the crew was in orbit. The first live audio or visuals from inside the crew capsule were shared Friday afternoon, nearly two days after they launched.
During previous SpaceX Crew Dragon missions — all of which have been flown for NASA and carried professional astronauts to the International Space Station -— the public has had more insight. The space agency and its dozens of communications personnel have worked alongside SpaceX to share practically every moment of the journey from launch until the astronauts dock with the International Space Station.
But this mission left the public largely in the dark when it came to questions about the crew’s schedule and how they were feeling while in orbit. Even though development of the Crew Dragon spacecraft was largely funded by taxpayers and SpaceX rents NASA facilities to support all its missions, Inspiration4 is considered a private, commercial mission. That means SpaceX’s customers only have to be as transparent as they want to be.
But favorable reviews of their experience could be crucial. SpaceX hopes that this mission will be the first of many like it, building up a new line of business for the company in which it uses Crew Dragon to fly commercial missions with tourists or private researchers rather than just professional astronauts.
SpaceX already has contracts for five other private missions, as well as at least four additional NASA-contracted missions.
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