Saturday, September 18, 2021

SpaceX capsule and first all-civilian crew orbiting in space splashes down in Atlantic


Four space tourists successfully ended their trailblazing journey to orbit Sunday with a splashdown at the Atlantic off the Florida Coast.

The crew of the SpaceX capsule parachuted in the ocean just before sunset. This was not far from their chartered flight three days earlier. This all-amateur crew was first to orbit the globe without a professional astronaut.

The billionaire, who paid undisclosed million for the trip, and his three guests wanted the opportunity to prove that ordinary people can launch into orbit without assistance. SpaceX founder Elon Musk invited them aboard as its first rocket-riding tourists.

SpaceX Mission Control radioed, "Your mission has shown that space is available for all of us."

Jared Isaacman, trip sponsor, said that it was an amazing ride and that there were more private flights in the future.

SpaceX's fully-automated Dragon capsule reached an extraordinary altitude of 585 km after Wednesday night's liftoff. The capsule surpassed the International Space Station by 160 km, and the passengers enjoyed views of Earth through a large bubble-shaped window at the capsule's top.

They returned through the atmosphere Saturday evening and were the first space travelers to complete their flight in the Atlantic since Apollo 9 back in 1969. SpaceX's previous crew splashdowns, carrying astronauts for NASA, were in the Gulf of Mexico.

A pair of SpaceX boats pulled up beside the bobbing capsule within a matter of minutes. The capsule was then hoisted onto the recovery ship, where the hatch was opened. They were to undergo medical checks before being flown to Kennedy Space Center via helicopter to reunite with their families.

NASA was a mere encouraging observer during this time. Its only tie is the Kennedy launch pad, which SpaceX leased, and which was once used by the Apollo moonshots crews.

Isaacman, 38, is an entrepreneur and accomplished pilot who aimed to raise USD200 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. He donated USD 100 million and held a lottery to win one of four seats. A competition was also held for Shift4 Payments, his payment-processing company in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Hayley Arceneaux (29), a St. Jude physician assistant, was on board the flight. Hayley was also treated at the Memphis, Tennessee hospital almost two decades ago for bone tumors. Contest winners Chris Sembroski (42), a data engineer from Everett Washington, and SianProctor (51), a community college teacher, scientist, and artist from Tempe.

They were strangers from March until March. They spent six months training for the flight and preparing to handle any emergencies. They were able to talk to St. Jude patients, perform medical tests, ring the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange and enjoy some drawing and ukulele playing.

Arceneaux was the youngest American astronaut and first to use a prosthesis. They received calls from Tom Cruise who was interested in his SpaceX flight to the station for filming and Bono of U2 as well.

Even the space menu was not typical: Not only did they serve cold pizzas and sandwiches but also pasta Bolognese, Mediterranean lamb and other dishes.

Sembroski calmed down before descending. He was able to be seen in the capsule, watching the 1987 Mel Brooks film 'Spaceballs' from his tablet.

Nearly 600 people have been to space, a record that started 60 years ago. It is likely to rise as space tourism heats-up.

Benji Reed, director of SpaceX, expects six private flights per year. This is in addition to the astronaut launches for NASA. Four SpaceX flights have already been booked to carry paying customers to space station. They are accompanied by ex-NASA astronauts.

Three businessmen will pay USD 55 million each for the first, which is expected to be completed by early next year. Russia plans to hire an actor and film director in Russia next month, and a Japanese tycoon for December.

Customers looking for quick space trips should look to Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson and Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos. To encourage ticket sales, the two piloted their own rockets into space. Their flights lasted between 10 and 15 minutes.


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