The Inspiration4 crew made a triumphant splashdown on Saturday evening off the east coast of Florida, marking the close of the first completely private, all-civilian space mission. SpaceX’s Go Searcher recovery ship hauled in the Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, a little less than an hour after splashdown. The crew was then ferried via helicopter to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where they received standard medical checks.
The successful completion of the mission is a major triumph for Elon Musk and SpaceX (and, more peripherally, NASA, which funded the development of the tech), which conducted the entirety of the mission. It’s also perhaps our clearest signal that a new dawn of space travel is officially here.
Benji Reed, SpaceX’s senior director for human-spaceflight programs, told reporters that the company is seeing an increased number of inquiries from potential customers for private missions. The company could fly “three, four, five, six times a year at least,” he said.
Of course, mission commander Jared Isaacman is not the first billionaire to go to space. This summer, both Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos conducted their own orbital joy-rides in vehicles developed by their respective companies, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. But those trips were significantly shorter — Bezos and his three crewmates went to space and back in less than 15 minutes, essentially traveling in a long parabolic arc.
In contrast, the Inspiration4 crew spent three days orbiting Earth at an altitude that went as high as 590 kilometers — that’s higher than the International Space Station, meaning they were the most “outer” of all the people in space. Over the course of their mission, they traveled around the Earth an average of 15 times per day.
While in orbit, the crew conducted a handful of science experiments, mostly capturing data on themselves with the aim of furthering our understanding of the effects of spaceflight on the human body. The crew also spent some time in the large glass domed window, which SpaceX calls the “cupola,” snapping pictures of space.
Other than Isaacman, who made his fortune from his payment processing company Shift4 payments, the crew included physician assistant and childhood cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux; geoscientist Sian Proctor; and Lockheed Martin engineer Chris Sembroski. Among the other firsts for the crew, Arceneaux is the youngest American to go to space and the first person with a prosthesis to go to space; Proctor is the first Black woman to pilot a space mission.
The historic mission was paid for entirely by Isaacman, though both he and SpaceX are staying mum on how much it cost in total. Instead, the mission was being framed as a $200 million fundraiser for St. Jude Research Hospital, to which Isaacman donated $100 million and Musk donated $50 million. The fundraiser received an additional $60.2 million in public donations.
This is the second time the Resilience spacecraft has safely carried humans to and from space. The first mission, Crew-1, carried four astronauts (three from NASA, one from the Japanese space agency) to the ISS and returned them to Earth in May. SpaceX will be conducting another handful of crewed missions over the next six months, including another mission to the ISS on behalf of NASA and the European Space Agency, as well as the private AX-1 mission on behalf of Axiom Space.
“Thanks so much SpaceX, that was a heck of a ride for us,” Isaacman said moments after the capsule landed. “We’re just getting started.”