Space Missions

Where did the SpaceX capsule splashdown?

The all-civilian crewed Inspiration4 mission made a safe return to Earth on Saturday at 7pm EDT just before sundown, landing near the Kennedy Space Center.

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Where did the SpaceX capsule splashdown?
HANDOUT AFP

The SpaceX Inspiration4 mission made a safe splashdown in the Atlantic off Florida’s coast on Saturday, parachuting into the water at 7.06 pm EDT.

Kennedy Space Center in Florida

Space X confirmed the Dragon space craft, dubbed Resilience, had splashed down “off the coast of Kennedy Space Center, Florida”. A spokesperson for the company said the coordinates would not be released.

All civilian crew splashes down safely

The Inspiration4 mission was crewed by four civilians, the first all-civilian human spaceflight to orbit. The trip took off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday, September 15, blasting off on a reusable two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 8.03 pm EDT.

The Inspiration4 crew safely exited the Dragon capsule after it was hoisted onto the main deck of the recovery ship an hour after splashdown and were given medical checks before a helicopter ride back to the Kennedy Space Center.

The capsule itself, scorched from the 3,500 degree Fahrenheit (1,900 degree Celsius) heat generated by re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, was taken by ship to be checked before being refitted for another mission.

In the SpaceX flight control center, located in suburban Los Angeles on the other side of the country, there was applause as the parachutes were deployed, slowing the capsule to around 15 miles per hour before splashdown. There were more cheers as the craft safely hit the water.

Crew come out after splashdown

First out of the Dragon capsule was Hayely Arceneaux, 29, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children's Research Center in Tennessee, a childhood bone cancer survivor herself who became the youngest person ever reach Earth orbit on the Inspiration4 mission.

She was followed by geoscientist and former NASA astronaut candidate Sian Proctor, 51, aerospace data engineer and Air Force veteran Chris Sembroski, 42, and finally the crew's billionaire benefactor and ‘mission commander’ Jared Isaacman, 38, CEO of Shift4Payments Inc, an e-commerce firm. “That was a heck of a ride for us. We’re just getting started,” said Isaacman from inside the capsule just after splashdown.

Inspiration4 has highest orbit since Apollo missions

The mission saw the Dragon capsule soar to a cruising orbital altitude of 363 miles (585 km), the farthest any human has flown from Earth since the Apollo moon program ended in 1972. That orbit is further out from Earth than the International Space Station or the Space Shuttle mission to place the Hubble Telescope.

The capsule itself was entirely automated, and although Isaacman and Proctor are both licensed pilots, the crew played no part in flying the spacecraft. According to Todd "Leif" Ericson, mission director for the Inspiration4 venture, the crew had "the same training and the same control and authority that NASA astronauts have" to intervene in the Crew Dragon's operation in the event of an emergency.

Two minor problems reported during trip

Benji Reed, SpaceX's human-spaceflight chief, said there had only been two easily fixed, minor problems during the flight: a malfunctioning fan in the toilet system and a faulty temperature sensor on one of the spacecraft’s engines.

Inspiration 4 Mission objectives

The Inspiration4 mission aims to raise $200 million for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital to help “give hope to all kids with cancer and other life-threatening diseases.” During the three-day space flight the crew conducted scientific research “designed to advance human health on Earth and during future long-duration spaceflights”, according to SpaceX.

Space Tourism blasting off

This was the debut flight of Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s space tourism business and takes the company ahead of competitors offering rides on rocket ships to customers happy to pay significant sums for a trip into space. SpaceX has already launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the space station for NASA.

Two rival operators, Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc and Blue Origin, launched their own space tourism services recently, with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, each going on the missions. The major difference however was that those were suborbital flights, lasting a matter of minutes, mere short hops compared with Inspiration4's three days in orbit.