Inspiration4 Returns to Earth

The Inspiration4 mission has successfully returned to Earth with a splashdown just off Florida’s Atlantic coast.

“That was a heck of a ride for us, and we’re just getting started,” said entrepreneur and mission commander Jared Isaacman.

During Inspiration4’s reentry, twin sonic booms could be heard over Florida, including Polk County, near the center of the state. The sonic booms were similar to ones that could be heard during Space Shuttle reentries. The spacecraft is typically still going at supersonic speeds when it hits Earth’s atmosphere, fast enough to cause the sonic booms and also cause a brief communications blackout before the spacecraft sheds enough speed to splash down safely.

The Crew Dragon, which had been named “Resilience” by NASA’s Crew-1 astronauts, was recovered half an hour after splashdown. According to SpaceX, the crew watched a movie while they waited, though they did not say what the crew’s choice of show was. The water in the Atlantic Ocean was calm, which reportedly made recovery operations easier.

“We’ve had just great weather, all around,” said SpaceX engineer Jessie Anderson during the livestream of Inspiration4’s return to Earth.

The crew consisted of Isaacman, childhood cancer survivor and physician assistant Haley Arcaneux, educator and artist Sian Proctor, and engineer Chris Sembroski. During live coverage of the Crew Dragon recovery and crew’s egress, some crew members were seen to do a little dance upon setting foot on the recovery ship, indicating that they were in good shape and good spirits after their three-day mission.

The mission was organized as a fundraiser that raised $113 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As part of the fundraiser, a seat on the flight was offered as a raffle prize for donors. The winner gifted the seat to Sembroski. According to Isaacman, it was equally important to inspire young children, including ones with serious illnesses like cancer who might receive treatment at St. Jude.

Although there was some grumbling on social media about lack of pictures and video featuring the crew’s activities while on orbit, the lack could be explained by an exclusive deal with Netflix and a few pictures were released. Defenders of this decision said that the three-day mission was likely to be packed with activities like medical experiments and occasionally gazing out of Resilience’s new cupola at Earth.

Inspiration4 and its crew will be featured in a five-part documentary on Netflix. The documentary, titled Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space, is being directed by Jason Hehir, who previously directed the ESPN documentary The Last Dance. Netflix is also preparing a companion show for kids titled A StoryBots Space Adventure. The first installment of Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space can already be found on Netflix.

Upcoming civilian flights for SpaceX include a series of flights organized by Axiom Space, which are expected to begin in early 2022 and will be commanded by veteran NASA astronauts, including Peggy Whitson and Michael López-Alegría. The Axiom Space flights will include docking with the International Space Station as part of preparation for the company’s inflatable station modules.