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SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule successfully delivered four private citizens on the Earth’s surface Saturday night. The company closed this chapter in history as the first all-civilian mission in space. The Inspiration4 crew — the mission’s billionaire funder Jared Isaacman, geoscientist Sian Proctor, physician assistant Haley Arceneaux, and data engineer Chris Sembroski — became the first non-professional astronauts partying in Earth orbit. 

According to The Verge the crew landed in the Atlantic Ocean which is approximately 30 miles east of NASA’s Kennedy Centre, where the SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched on Wednesday. Beginning at about 7:02PM ET, Crew Dragon deployed two sets of parachutes — an initial set of two, and a final set of four — to ease its descent toward the ocean. Splashdown happened at around 7:06PM ET. SpaceX recovery teams raced toward the capsule in boats to retrieve the crew.

SpaceX's Dragon Crew landing
Image credit: theverge.com

“Thanks so much, SpaceX, it was a heck of a ride for us, and we’re just getting started” Isaacman told SpaceX’s mission control just after splashing down. From an on-time launch at 8:02PM ET Wednesday to an on-time splashdown Saturday, the Inspiration4 mission lasted 71 hours total. The objectives of the orbital trek were two-fold: to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, a non-profit that researches cancer and gives free care to kids with cancer and other life-threatening diseases, and conduct a scientific study on how the passengers’ bodies react to microgravity. Since launching on Wednesday, St. Jude raised roughly $20 million, putting the total fundraiser at about $153 million of its $200 million goals, St. Jude said.

When returning to Earth the crew was in a blackout condition. The thing is SpaceX’s mission control in California couldn’t keep a stable connection due to the sheath of plasma that forms around the capsule during its turbulent atmospheric reentry. During reentry, the exterior of the spacecraft reached temperatures of up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, but the crew was kept cool by their flight suits and reinforced air conditioning inside the capsule. Crew Dragon streaked across the skies above northeast South America and zoomed toward the Cape Canaveral coast.

The capsule released and deployed a set of two parachutes to slow itself down from 350 miles per hour to 100MPH. Those parachutes were replaced by the other deployment of four main parachutes at nearly 1800ft which worked to fully stop down the capsule to about 15MPH. 

After the splashdown the SpaceX’s “Go Searcher” boat found the capsule roughly in a half hour. After that the recovery team opened Crew Dragon’s hatch door and guided the crew out on a platform one by one, Arceneaux leading the pack. Proctor was next, practically grooving her way onto the platform. Sembroski and Isaacman followed. Isaacman’s egress was more of a toddle, his legs shaking a bit as he adjusted to Earth’s gravity. They’ll all get checked out by medical personnel and flown in a helicopter back to land.

Image credit: theverge.com

The crew was in high spirits after stepping out of Crew Dragon, Inspiration4 mission director Scott Poteet told reporters during a post-splashdown press conference. “They’re taking selfies, they’re having a good time, they’re eating, they’re drinking, standing up and walking around.”

While the crew was on its three-day trip in orbit, on a 363 miles altitude they kept in touch with St. Jude patients, and family members. 

Besides, there was a side quest for scientists to gather data which can help to examine how microgravity affects the human body. During Friday’s video, Arceneaux showed off a device the crew was using to measure cranial pressure.

The core goal of the Inspiration4 mission was to show that gliding in space is not only for government astronauts. Other missions will follow, including the first private mission to the ISS next year. The company that brokered that trip, Axiom Space, has already signed up for three additional trips to the ISS on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.

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