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September 19, 2021

SpaceX safely returned its Crew Dragon spacecraft from orbit on Saturday, with the capsule carrying the four members of the Inspiration4 mission back to Earth after three days in space. Crew Dragon capsule Resilience splashed down off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida in the Atlantic Ocean.

“Thanks so much SpaceX, that was a heck of a ride for us and we’re just getting started!” Inspiration4 commander Jared Isaacman said from the capsule. In less than an hour after splashdown, SpaceX loaded the capsule onto its recovery ship and the crew exited, each giving waves and thumbs up after disembarking. The crew will then be helicoptered from the ship to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, a short flight away from the splashdown site.

Inspiration4 mission director Scott Poteet joined a post-splashdown call with reporters, speaking from the SpaceX recovery ship. “The group is in great spirits, they’re having a blast and everyone’s looking forward to reuniting with their families,” Poteet said.

The historic private mission — which includes Isaacman, pilot Sian Proctor, medical officer Hayley Arceneaux and mission specialist Chris Sembroski — orbited the Earth at an altitude as high as 590 kilometers, which is above the International Space Station and the furthest humans have traveled above the surface in years. A free-flying spaceflight, the capsule did not dock with the ISS but instead circled the Earth independently at a rate of 15 orbits per day.

SpaceX human spaceflight programs senior director Benji Reed told reporters after splashdown that the company’s sales and marketing teams saw an “increased” number of inquiries from people interested in purchasing a private spaceflight. He said that SpaceX can fly “five or six” private missions per year.

“If demand is there, then we’ll want to look at what we can do to continue to grow that” capability, Reed said. Reed also noted that there were “a couple of issues” that SpaceX resolved during the spaceflight, including with the waste management system, or toilet, onboard the spacecraft. Inspiration4 mission director Todd Ericson added that the toilet had “an issue with a fan that’s part of the system” but a workaround was implemented without significant trouble.

Inspiration4 shared photos from the crew’s time in orbit, giving a look at the expansive views from the spacecraft’s “cupola” window.

This is the third time SpaceX has returned astronauts from space, and the second time for this capsule – which previously flew the Crew-1 mission for NASA on a trip that returned in May.

Both prior SpaceX astronaut missions splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, making this the first that returned in the Atlantic Ocean.

The mission also comes with multiple other milestones for Musk’s company, including The first private SpaceX spaceflight, the first entirely nonprofessional crew to become astronauts, the first Black female spacecraft pilot, the youngest American astronaut to date, and the first person to fly in space with a prosthesis.

Inspiration4 was paid for by Isaacman for an undisclosed amount, with the main goal of the spaceflight to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Isaacman, a billionaire entrepreneur, donated $100 million personally, with the mission has raised another $53.8 million in donations as of Saturday evening, according to the mission’s website.

Analyst View

It is heartwarming that SpaceX Inspiration4 mission was successful after 3 days of space Orbit around the Earth and the capsule carrying the four non-professional astronauts back to Earth. This is another testimonial of man exploring and conquering space successfully. This is a flood gate commercial opportunity for space companies and an exciting moment for more people to experience vacations to space and perhaps other planets.