SpaceX’s Inspiration4 safely returns to Earth after a historic 3-day orbit

The historic mission marks the first private, commercial space flight with an amateur crew.
An aerial view of the SpaceX Dragon capsule over Earth.
The SpaceX Dragon capsule carries four amateur passengers in the historic Inspiration4 flight. Brian Dunbar

This post has been updated. It was last published on September 15, 2021.

On September 15, for the first time in history, the United States successfully sent four non-astronaut space travelers into orbit with the historic Inspiration4 mission, operated by SpaceX. The foursome traveled through space for three days in the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Florida, on Saturday night.  

The spacecraft lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida carried by a Falcon 9 rocket. While the Dragon capsule reached outer space, it did not dock at the International Space Station. Rather, it soared about 80 miles higher instead. The crew viewed our planet from above for three days in orbit before returning through the atmosphere and landing in the Atlantic Ocean.

Watch the launch here:

The main funding for the mission came from billionaire Jared Isaacman, the founder and CEO of payment processor Shift4 Payments. Isaacman, who is also a jet pilot licensed to fly commercial and military aircraft, assembled this team himself from a sweepstakes, with each crew member embodying a different aspirational characteristic. Isaacman’s private, all-civilian space mission furthers the push for commercial spaceflight. This journey doubles as a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, which the site’s FAQ explains by noting that, “if civilization can journey among the stars, we better have conquered childhood cancer along the way.” Isaacman paid for each spot on this flight and donated an additional $100 million to St. Jude.

The youngest among the eclectic crew is 29-year-old Hayley Arceneaux, representing hope. A childhood bone cancer survivor, Arceneaux works as a physician’s assistant at St. Jude, where she received treatment as a ten year old. Arceneaux not only became the youngest American to enter space, but the first person in space with a prosthesis—a metal rod in her leg.

Geoscientist Sian Proctor—prosperity—has space travel in her blood; her father worked at the NASA tracking stations during the Apollo missions. While she had never been to space prior to this trip, she was an astronaut candidate and completed tasks in simulated space conditions, making her the most highly trained person on the mission. 

Data engineer Chris Sembroski has aerospace experience, though not of the astronaut type. The former US Space Camp counselor served in the US Air Force, and has a degree in professional aeronautics to boot. His spot represents generosity, as it originally went to a friend of Sembroski who bid on the ticket as part of the fundraiser, but passed it off when he wasn’t able to make the journey.

The crew had been training since March, acclimating to a zero-gravity environment and the huge G-forces needed to power a rocket launch.

Inspiration4 surpassed both Blue Origins’ and Virgin Galactic’s suborbital flights in height and duration.