Science

SpaceX: the first four space tourists to return to Earth

SpaceX’s first four space tourists returned to Earth Saturday night after spending three days in space, crowning the first orbital mission in history without a professional astronaut on board. The Dragon capsule withstood the dizzying descent thanks to its heat shield, then was slowed by four huge parachutes. The landing in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida, took place on time, around midnight in France (7:06 pm local time).

“It was an incredible journey for us, and it’s just beginning,” captain, billionaire Jared Isaacman, said shortly after. Then a SpaceX spacecraft recovered the capsule. The four passengers, grinning from ear to ear, got out one by one. They would then be transported by helicopter to the Kennedy Space Center, from where they had taken off Wednesday night, and where they would be reunited with their families. “Congratulations Inspiration4,” Elon Musk, the head of SpaceX, tweeted after the landing, using the mission’s official name. The four Americans traveled farther than the International Space Station (ISS), up to 590 km above sea level. With a speed of around 28,000 km / h, they went around the world more than 15 times a day.

“Second space age”

The mission’s stated goal was to mark a turning point in the democratization of space, by demonstrating that the cosmos is also accessible to crews who have not been selected and trained for years, such as astronauts. “Welcome to the second space age,” Todd “Leif” Ericson, Inspiration4 mission chief, told a news conference Saturday. With the latter, “space travel becomes much more accessible to ordinary people,” he said. Jared Isaacman, 38, the head of a financial services company, paid SpaceX tens and tens of millions of dollars (the exact price has not been disclosed).

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He had offered three seats to strangers, including Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old medical assistant, who became the youngest American, but also the first person with a prosthesis (femur), to go into space. Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old earth science teacher, and Chris Sembroski, a 42-year-old US Air Force alumnus, rounded out the crew. Before the trip, his training had lasted less than six months. The flight remained fully automated, but they had been trained to take control when necessary.

Once there, they collected particular data (heart rate, sleep, blood oxygen saturation, cognitive abilities, etc.) that should help better understand the effect of the spatial environment on beginners. But they also enjoyed the view of the cosmos through a new observation dome installed in Dragon, they were able to talk with actor Tom Cruise from his boat, eat pizza or enjoy the joy of weightlessness in music. Only a minor problem occurred during the flight, with the toilet system, but a solution was found quickly, Ericson said, without elaborating.

The next flight is already scheduled

The mission also serves as a large fundraiser for St Jude Children’s Hospital (Memphis, Tennessee), where Hayley Arceneaux works after being treated there as a child for cancer. On the ship there were several objects (ukulele …) that must now be auctioned for the benefit of the hospital. About $ 160 million has been raised so far, including $ 100 million donated by Jared Isaacman. This is the third time that Elon Musk’s company, which in a few years has become a giant in the sector, has returned humans to Earth: during previous missions on behalf of NASA, six astronauts had already experienced a landing in water. aboard the same ship, after a stay on the ISS.

Inspiration4 concludes a summer marked by the flight of billionaires over the last frontier: first Richard Branson on July 11, aboard the Virgin Galactic ship, then a few days later Jeff Bezos, with his company Blue Origin. But these suborbital flights only offered a few minutes in zero gravity. SpaceX is planning more space tourism flights thereafter. Next January 2022, with three businessmen on board. “The number of people who have contacted us … has grown considerably,” said Benji Reed, head of manned spaceflight at SpaceX on Saturday.

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And to specify that the company was working on two improvements on board: adding the possibility of heating food and Wi-Fi.

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