Another Billionaire Has Safely Sent Tourists Into Space

SpaceX crew first all-amateur group to circle Earth
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 19, 2021 5:46 AM CDT
Another Billionaire Has Safely Sent Tourists Into Space
Passengers of Inspiration4 in the Dragon capsule on their first day in space.   (SpaceX via AP)

(Newser) – Four space tourists safely ended their trailblazing trip to orbit Saturday with a splashdown in the Atlantic off the Florida coast, per the AP. Their SpaceX capsule parachuted into the ocean just before sunset, not far from where their chartered flight began three days earlier. The all-amateur crew was the first to circle the world without a professional astronaut. The billionaire who paid undisclosed millions for the trip and his three guests wanted to show that ordinary people could blast into orbit by themselves, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk took them on as the company’s first rocket-riding tourists. SpaceX’s fully automated Dragon capsule reached an unusually high altitude of 363 miles after Wednesday night’s liftoff. Surpassing the International Space Station by 100 miles, the passengers savored views of Earth through a big bubble-shaped window added to the top of the capsule.

The four streaked back through the atmosphere early Saturday evening, the first space travelers to end their flight in the Atlantic since Apollo 9 in 1969. SpaceX’s two previous crew splashdowns—carrying astronauts for NASA—were in the Gulf of Mexico. Within a few minutes, a pair of SpaceX boats pulled up alongside the bobbing capsule. When the hatch was opened on the recovery ship, health care worker Hayley Arceneaux was the first one out, flashing a big smile and thumbs up. All appeared well and happy. Their families were waiting near the scene of Wednesday night's launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center. This time, NASA was little more than an encouraging bystander, its only tie being the Kennedy launch pad once used for the Apollo moonshots and shuttle crews, but now leased by SpaceX.

Isaacman, 38, an entrepreneur and accomplished pilot, aimed to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Donating $100 million himself, he held a lottery for one of the four seats. He also held a competition for clients of his Allentown, Pennsylvania payment-processing business, Shift4 Payments. Joining him on the flight were Arceneaux, 29, a St. Jude physician assistant who was treated at the Memphis, Tennessee hospital nearly two decades ago for bone cancer, and contest winners Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Everett, Washington, and Sian Proctor, 51, a community college educator, scientist and artist from Tempe, Arizona. Strangers until March, the four spent six months training and preparing for potential emergencies during the flight — but there was no need to step in, officials said after their return.

During the trip dubbed Inspiration4, they had time to chat with St. Jude patients, conduct medical tests on themselves, ring the closing bell for the New York Stock Exchange and do some drawing and ukulele playing. Arceneaux, the youngest American in space and the first with a prosthesis, assured her patients, “I was a little girl going through cancer treatment just like a lot of you, and if I can do this, you can do this.” They also took calls from Tom Cruise, interested in his own SpaceX flight to the space station for filming, and the rock band U2's Bono. Even their space menu wasn’t typical: Cold pizza and sandwiches, but also pasta Bolognese and Mediterranean lamb. The 60-year scorecard now stands at 591 people who have reached space or its edges—and is expected to skyrocket as space tourism heats up.
(Read more SpaceX stories.)

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