Inspiration4 Crew Gets Ready for Return Saturday Afternoon

Inspiration4 Crew Gets Ready for Return Saturday Afternoon

The first all-commercial space crew is getting ready to come home after a three-day jaunt in Earth orbit. Jared Isaacman and his three Inspiration4 companions shared a brief live update from orbit Friday afternoon as they began to get ready to end their adventure and splash down in the ocean near Florida on Saturday.

A billionaire who made most of his money from creating an online payment system for restaurants and hotels, Shift4Payments, Isaacman is the benefactor paying SpaceX to take himself and three companions to orbit in a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. None of them had any professional astronaut training or spaceflight experience until now.

Launched on Wednesday evening, they have been circling the Earth every 90 minutes and having fun ever since. Isaacman has a deal with Netflix and Time to chronicle the mission so not much information has come out so far, although they did hold a brief live session a few hours ago to show the public around their quarters that was livestreamed by SpaceX.

Isaacman is using the mission to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He devised the methods for choosing his companions. He alloted one seat to St. Jude itself, which selected Hayley Arceneaux, a bone cancer survivor who was a patient there when she was 10. Now 29, she works as a medical assistant there. Another, Sian Proctor, won a competition by creating a business website using Shift4Shop’s software and a video explaining why she should get to fly. The fourth, Chris Sembroski, participated in a lottery by contributing money to St. Jude and although he didn’t win, a friend did and gave him the ticket.

The Inspiration4 crew training in a zero-g airplane flight prior to launch. L-R: Chris Sembroski, Hayley Arceneaux, Jared Isaacman, Sian Proctor. Credit: Inspiration4 website.

The mission duration was set at 3 days, but the exact time was not announced until after the live update on Friday.

Crew Dragon returns to Earth like the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules of the 1960s and 1970s, splashing down in the ocean rather than landing on terra firma like NASA’s space shuttle, Russia’s Soyuz, China’s Shenzhou, or the Starliner spacecraft under development by Boeing.

Nominally, Crew Dragon is designed to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean off of Florida’s east coast, but it can also land in the Gulf of Mexico depending on weather. The two prior Crew Dragon flights, Demo-1 and Crew-1, both for NASA, had to use the Gulf of Mexico, but Inspiration4 is headed for the Atlantic.

Splashdown is scheduled for 7:06 pm Eastern Daylight Time tonight, September 17.

SpaceX will provide live coverage on its website beginning at 6:00 pm EDT, but how much Isaacman allows them to show and how much will be withheld for viewers of Netflix and readers of Time remains to be seen. To a public accustomed to NASA’s openness, the Inspiration4 crew’s meager interactions after launch is quite a jolt and a reminder that commercial space is … commercial.

But Isaacman also is intent on raising $200 million for St. Jude. He is personally contributing $100 million and hopes to get the rest through donations and other fundraising efforts like merchandising.

Astronauts and cosmonauts routinely take along cute “zero-gravity indicators,” often toys chosen by their children, that signal when they have reached space by beginning to float.

For Inspiration4, it is a plush puppy representing the Golden Retrievers St. Jude uses to comfort the children undergoing treatment. Arceneaux showed it off today. Sold in the St. Jude gift shop, a SpaceX spokesperson said it sold out in an hour, but the St. Jude website has an option to be notified when more are available.

Hayley Arceneaux and Sian Proctor in orbit with St. Jude zero-g indicator puppy. Screengrab.

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