WAILEA, Hawaii — SpaceX’s first private Crew Dragon mission is set to end with a splashdown off the Florida coast Sept. 18, three days after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center.
At the end of a live video session with the four-person Inspiration4 mission Sept. 17, SpaceX said they were planning a splashdown at 7:06 p.m. Eastern Sept. 18. The company later said the splashdown would be in the Atlantic Ocean but did not give a more specific location. Airspace restrictions are in place for splashdowns off the coast from Jacksonville, Daytona Beach and Melbourne, Florida.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft Resilience had been in an orbit about 575 kilometers high since shortly after its Sept. 15 launch. SpaceX said spacecraft performed two maneuvers late Sept. 17 to lower its orbit to 365 kilometers and align its orbit with the splashdown location.
The spacecraft launched Sept. 15 on a three-day mission funded by billionaire Jared Isaacman, who is serving as commander. Neither the Inspiration4 team nor SpaceX released many details about activities in the first 24 hours, such as images or video from inside the spacecraft or views from the special cupola mounted in the nose where the docking mechanism would be.
“Just spoke with @inspiration4x crew. All is well,” SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted Sept. 16, about 20 hours after liftoff, in one of the few updates that day. Inspiration4 later disclosed that the crew held a live video chat with patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, for which the mission is raising funds, and that Isaacman placed two football bets while in orbit, reportedly the first sports bets made from space.
During the approximately 10-minute video call, Isaacman and crewmates Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski discussed some of the medical research they were performing and showed off the spacecraft, including the cupola. However, the video session took place during orbital night, diminishing the views from the cupola.
“We have been spending so much time in this cupola,” Arceneaux said. “We can put our head in and fit multiple crew members. We see the entire perimeter of the Earth and it gives such an incredible perspective.”
Proctor, a geoscientist and artist, showed off a drawing she did while in space, while Sembroski briefly played a custom ukulele. “Because we’re trying to open the frontier for more people and open up space for more humans, we’re going to be bringing more of our humanity with us,” Sembroski said.
“It’s really amazing”
Inspiration4 is the second mission for Resilience, which launched in November 2020 on the Crew-1 mission, returning to Earth May 2. SpaceX quickly refurbished the spacecraft, including replacing the docking mechanism with the cupola, for Inspiration4.
“It’s really amazing when you think about it: we just splashed down May 2 and Resilience is in space again,” Mike Hopkins, the NASA astronaut who commanded Crew-1, said in a Sept. 17 interview on the sidelines of the Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies, or AMOS, Conference here.
He said he had a chance to informally talk with the Inspiration4 crew before their launch. “It was an opportunity to share some the little nuggets that we had as a crew,” he said, comparing the experience of being in the spacecraft to four people camping in the same tent.
That discussion, he said, included what it was like to be in the spacecraft on the launch pad while the Falcon 9 is being fueled. “It is amazing when you’re sitting on the rocket as it’s being fueled,” he said. “You can hear a lot: there’s vibrations, there’s bangs as they’re opening valves and closing valves. It’s pretty amazing.”
Hopkins said he was excited for the Inspiration4 crew. “More people having the opportunity to go to space is a good thing,” he said. “I look forward to, maybe after they’re back, getting to hear some of their stories as well and trade notes about living on Resilience.”