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SpaceX capsule returns four civilians from orbit

BI Desk || BusinessInsider

Published: 14:25, 19 September 2021  
SpaceX capsule returns four civilians from orbit

Picture : Collected

Four people returned to Earth from a three-day extraterrestrial excursion aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on Saturday evening, marking the end of the first-ever flight to Earth's orbit flown entirely by tourists or otherwise non-astronauts.

"Thanks so much SpaceX, it was a heck of a ride for us," billionaire and "Inspiration4" mission commander Jared Isaacman could be heard saying over the company's livestream, reports CNN Business.

The crew were shown watching movies, and occasionally heard responding to SpaceX's mission control inside their fully autonomous spacecraft before it began the nail-biting process of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere.

After traveling at more than 17,000 miles per hour, the spacecraft used Earth's own thick blanket of air to slow itself down, with the outside of the craft reaching temperatures up to 3,500º Fahrenheit in the process.

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

After emerging from the spacecraft, just before being whisked back to Florida by helicopter, the crew were seen smiling and waving to the livestream cameras.

But the flight was apparently not totally flawless from a technical standpoint. "You know we had a couple of issues that we worked, we did work something on the Waste Management System," Benji Reed, SpaceX's director of crew mission management, said during a post-flight briefing. "But that was fine, and you know, the crew was happy and healthy," he added.

Inspiration4 mission director Todd Ericson clarified that the issues was with the waste management system's fan. The SpaceX team responded by implementing "a backup plan."

"My hat's off to them," Ericson added.

Reed also said that there was an issue with a temperature sensor in one of the Draco thrusters used to move the capsule in outer space, but the company responded by taking the "double redundant" sensor offline.

"And in fact that Draco itself was redundant, it was never a risk," Reed said.

NASA officials have, however, 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.

The passengers included the 38-year-old Isaacman, who personally financed and arranged the trip with SpaceX and its CEO, Elon Musk; Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a childhood cancer survivor and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital physician assistant; Sian Procotor, 51, a geologist and community college teacher with a PhD; and Chris Sembroski, a 42-year-old Lockheed Martin employee and lifelong space fan who claimed his seat through an online raffle.

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.

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