SpaceX Inspiration4 Mission Updates: Astronauts Provide Video Update From Orbit

The first crew of nonprofessional astronauts in orbit will return to Earth on Saturday night.,

LiveUpdated Sept. 17, 2021, 5:46 p.m. ETSept. 17, 2021, 5:46 p.m. ET

The first crew of nonprofessional astronauts in orbit will return to Earth on Saturday night.

ImageFrom left, Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski and Sian Proctor, the Inspiration4 crew, during their first day in space.
From left, Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski and Sian Proctor, the Inspiration4 crew, during their first day in space.Credit…SpaceX, via Associated Press

Private spaceflight, it turns out, is a pretty private affair.

Until Friday afternoon, the four members of the Inspiration4 crew put out almost zero updates to the general public — no video of them floating in the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, no audio saying hi to the world. Their accounts on Twitter and Instagram, busily updated in recent weeks as they prepared for launch, have been silent since liftoff on Wednesday.

But they are up there, orbiting at an altitude about 360 miles above Earth, and the mission is getting chattier, with them providing a 10-minute live update on Friday afternoon.

That doesn’t mean they were not talking to people on the ground before then. The crew had answered questions from cancer patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. St. Jude released a recording of the chat on Twitter. The mission is raising millions of dollars for the hospital, which treats patients at no cost to their families and conducts research on cures for cancer and other diseases.

The crew members also had a call with the actor Tom Cruise. Sian Proctor, the Phoenix community college professor who serves as the mission’s pilot, has talked about how “Top Gun,” Mr. Cruise’s 1986 movie about fighter jet pilots, inspired her. Jared Isaacman, the billionaire who financed the mission and who serves as its commander, also flies retired military jets as a hobby.

The mission’s Twitter feed offered four photographs from space. One is a group photo of the crew. The other three show individual crew members in the glass dome at the top of the Crew Dragon capsule.

SpaceX tweeted a brief update on Thursday stating that the crew had eaten, slept and conducted scientific research. Elon Musk said on Twitter that he had spoken to the crew. (“All is well,” Mr. Musk reported.)

An online betting app also announced that Mr. Isaacman placed wagers from space.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft being recovered after a water landing in the Gulf of Mexico near Pensacola, Fla., in August 2020.Credit… Bill Ingalls/NASA, via EPA, via Shutterstock

The astronauts of the Inspiration4 mission, four nonprofessional astronauts who went to orbit in a SpaceX capsule, are expected to return to Earth on Saturday, at 7:06 p.m. Eastern time.

While some spacecraft land on the ground, Crew Dragon does water landings, akin to the method used by NASA astronauts to return to Earth during the Apollo, Gemini and Mercury eras. The splashdowns occur off the coast of Florida, either in the Gulf of Mexico or in the Atlantic Ocean. Two NASA missions returning crews from the International Space Station have splashed down safely in the past year, one of them at night.

Shortly before preparing to land, the vehicle will jettison what SpaceX calls the “trunk” section of the spacecraft — the cylindrical compartment below the gumdrop-shaped capsule. The trunk will burn up in the atmosphere.

Then the capsule will begin firing its thrusters to drop out of orbit. Once it is low enough in Earth’s atmosphere, parachutes will deploy to gently lower the capsule into the sea.

— The New York Times

Jared Isaacman gave a tour of the Crew Dragon’s cupola, which is the largest contiguous window ever flown to space.Credit…SpaceX

The astronauts on the Inspiration4 mission finally gave people on Earth a good look through their cupola on Friday. That’s a fancy word for dome.

The Crew Dragon capsule that the Inspiration4 crew is traveling in has one, and it’s a special cupola, 46 inches in diameter and 18 inches high. It includes a single piece of glass. With a viewing area of more than 2,000 square inches, it is the largest contiguous window ever flown to space.

On the three previous Crew Dragon trips to space, the capsules did not have a cupola, because those earlier missions, for NASA, docked at the International Space Station. But the Inspiration4 mission is simply circling the Earth, so there was no need for docking. SpaceX engineers came up with the idea of taking off the adapter and replacing it with a glass cupola, which would make the capsule more roomy.

They turned that idea into a piece of hardware that is now flying in space in about half a year. They refined the concept, explored different materials, built it and then tested it to make sure it wouldn’t crack or leak in space.

Just the greater interior space could conceivably have changed thermal and structural properties of the rest of the spacecraft, so engineers made sure that no such issues arose.

“All those little details,” Mr. Reed said. “But you do the same thing for any new component or any new substance that you put on Dragon.”

The International Space Station also has a cupola, and it is bigger than the one that the Inspiration4 crew is looking out of. But the one on the space station consists of several panes within a metal frame.

The continuous glass of the Crew Dragon cupola provides an unobstructed view.

In an Axios podcast about the mission, Jared Isaacman, the billionaire who leads Inspiration4, said the first time he looked out of it, when it was still on the ground at SpaceX headquarters in California, the effect was surprising.

“What I didn’t expect is, I couldn’t see, like, the glass,” Mr. Isaacman said.

That is, it was almost like sticking one’s head into the outer space.

“It felt like something that you would have to adjust to,” Mr. Isaacman said. “And that’s why I kind of told the crew, like, let’s not underestimate our body’s reaction to this.”

From the images released of the Inspiration4 astronauts in space, it appears that their reaction has been elation.

“I hope you’re getting to see what we see,” said Hayley Arceneaux, the mission’s medical director, in a recording of a video chat she held with patients from St. Jude, the pediatric cancer treatment hospital where she works.

The actor Tom Cruise expects to film a movie aboard the International Space Station.Credit…Chris Delmas/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Maverick has called space.

The Inspiration4 crew has talked to the actor Tom Cruise: Maverick was the call sign of his fighter pilot character in the 1986 movie “Top Gun.”

Like the Top Gun character, the four astronauts orbiting Earth have their own call signs. Jared Isaacman, the billionaire underwriting the mission, has flown fighter jets and already had a call sign: Rook, short for rookie. As part of the training for flying to orbit, Mr. Isaacman took his crewmates up in the air for fighter jet flights so they could experience high-G forces during sharp turns.

The other three crew members chose their own call signs. Hayley Arceneaux is Nova, Sian Proctor is Leo and Christopher Sembroski is Hanks.

Mr. Cruise also has space dreams. In May 2020, Jim Bridenstine, then the administrator of NASA, confirmed that the space agency had talked with Mr. Cruise about shooting a film on the International Space Station.

Since then, there has been no update about the progress of the movie or when Mr. Cruise may blast off. But he will return to the cockpit in a sequel called “Top Gun: Maverick,” now expected to be released in May 2022.

But if he does go, he will probably not be the first actor shooting a movie in space. A Russian actress and a director are scheduled to visit the space station next month to make a movie named “Challenge,” about a surgeon sent to orbit to save the life of a Russian astronaut.

Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo inside the Shenzhou-12 as it launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China in June.Credit…via Reuters

Outer space got a little more crowded on Wednesday night.

The four-person crew of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 raised the number of people in space to 14, edging out a record set in 2009 when 13 people lived on the International Space Station after the space shuttle Endeavour docked there.

This year, though, the 14 humans in space were on three separate missions.

There is a team of seven aboard the space station at this time.

And the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft carried three astronauts who were completing a 90-day stay on China’s space station, which is still under construction. On Friday, the crew returned safely to Earth, according to a state media report.

The “Commander & Benefactor” of the Inspiration4 is Jared Isaacman, a high school dropout who became a billionaire founder of a payments processing company. He follows fellow billionaires Richard Branson, the entrepreneur behind the Virgin companies, and Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, who went this year.

Billionaires like them, and the private companies they fund, have made the cost of space travel cheaper, according to Dr. Elliott Bryner, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona. As those costs go down, the number of people who are in space will go up, he said.

“The thing that has been barring us from going to space is cost,” Dr. Bryner said on Wednesday night. “With private launches, the number of people who can go to space will continue to increase.”

“It’s still a millionaire’s game, but at least you don’t have to be a superpower country,” he said.

Credit… SpaceX

The Crew Dragon is a gumdrop-shaped capsule — an upgraded version of SpaceX’s original Dragon capsule, which has been used many times to carry cargo. It is roughly comparable in size to the Apollo capsule that took NASA astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and ’70s. Earlier NASA capsules — Mercury and Gemini — were considerably smaller.

The capsule has more interior space than a minivan, but less than a studio apartment. And there is a bathroom. As you can probably imagine, you and some of your friends may be able to pile into a space like that for a brief time, but much longer could become uncomfortable.

So far, NASA’s missions in Crew Dragon have spent no more than about a day orbiting the planet before docking with the space station. Inspiration4’s crew will spend three days aboard.

“It’s like an extended camping trip,” Mr. Sembroski said during Tuesday’s news conference. “You’re in a camper van with some of your closest friends for three days.”

The crew members will be able to pull out sleeping bags “and strap yourself in so you don’t float into each other during the middle of the night,” he said.

“There will be a couple unique challenges maintaining privacy here and there,” Mr. Sembroski said. He said they had received good tips from NASA astronauts who previously traveled to space in the capsule.

“We’ll let you know more about how successful they were when we come back,” Mr. Sembroski said.

While food for spaceflight has made great advancements in quality since the 1960s, dining may not be a highlight of this orbital trip. In the Netflix documentary about Inspiration4, Ms. Arceneaux said during a taste test that she didn’t think she’d eat much in space. SpaceX has also not said who prepared the meals for this mission.

One of the planned meals is cold pizza, Mr. Sembroski revealed during an episode of an Axios podcast that followed their training for the mission.

“The cold pizza better be packed, because that was my order,” Dr. Proctor said on Tuesday. “Food and mood is so important. So I think for us it was really important working with SpaceX to get food that made us feel comfortable.”

You can’t go anywhere these days without a playlist. And the Inspiration4 crew members, in collaboration with Spotify, put one together for their tour through Earth’s orbit.

Each of the four crew members contributed 10 songs. Chris Sembroski, the mission specialist on the flight, provided an explanation for some of the songs he selected (with the help of his wife, Erin Duncan-Sembroski):

“I went with songs that reminded me of flight and realizing what has been a lifelong dream for me,” he said through a spokesman. “The idea of strutting out in my suit with ‘Dangerous’ by Big Data playing or the saxophone solo from ‘Midnight City’ by M83 as I look out at space from the cupola is already sending chills down my spine.”

If you tune into the playlist on Spotify, you can try to imagine what it’s like to hear “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins while flying through a place with almost no air, or that even if you go to space, you can’t escape “I Gotta Feeling,” by the Black Eyed Peas.

This is not the only music that the crew might listen to during their three days in orbit. They also have a nonfungible token, or NFT, of a new song, “Time in Disguise,” by the band Kings of Leon.

Mr. Sembroski has brought a ukulele, which he will play during the mission. It and the NFT will be auctioned for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

In addition, Sian Proctor, the mission’s pilot, has a personal playlist that includes a song by a friend of hers, Chelsea Gohd. Ms. Gohd is, by day, a senior writer at the website space.com, but she is also a musician who performs under the name Foxanne.

Last year, Ms. Gohd and Dr. Proctor participated in a simulation in Hawaii of a mission exploring the surface of Mars. Ms. Gohd lived in a habitat that was supposed to be on Mars. Dr. Proctor was part of mission control. “And she saved the day for us quite a few times as it was a tumultuous mission,” Ms. Gohd said.

Earlier this year, Ms. Gohd told Dr. Proctor about a new song, “I Could Go On,” and Dr. Proctor enthusiastically said she wanted to take that to space on her iPhone.

If you are curious about the musical tastes of the Inspiration4 crew members, here is the full list of songs on their official Spotify playlist:

  • “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins

  • “Higher” by Creed

  • “Hanging by a Moment” by Lifehouse

  • “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi

  • “Coming Undone” by Korn

  • “Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down

  • “New Divide” by Linkin Park

  • “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey

  • “Free Fallin'” by Tom Petty

  • “Welcome to Paradise” by Green Day

  • “Anything Can Happen” by Ellie Goulding

  • “Space Girl” by Francis Forever

  • “Lifetime” by Romy

  • “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel

  • “All Star” by Smash Mouth

  • “All The Small Things” by Blink-182

  • “Danza Kuduro” by Don Omar, Lucenzo

  • “I Love It ft. Charli XCX” by Icona Pop

  • “Starships” by Nicki Minaj

  • “Toxic” by Britney Spears

  • “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore

  • “Walking on a Dream” by Empire of the Sun

  • “Renegades” by X Ambassadors

  • “Dangerous” by Big Data

  • “Makeba” by Jain

  • “Colors” by Black Pumas

  • “Safe and Sound” by Capital Cities

  • “Midnight City” by M83

  • “Helena Beat” by Foster the People

  • “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd

  • “Beautiful Day” by U2

  • “Stay Gold” by Stevie Wonder

  • “I Gotta Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas

  • “Dance Apocalyptic” by Janelle Monae

  • “Rocket Man” by Elton John

  • “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic

  • “High Hopes” by Panic! At The Disco

  • “Imagine” by John Lennon

  • “Chances” by Five for Fighting

  • “F*ckin’ Perfect” by Pink

Elon Musk greeted family members of the Inspiration4 crew at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesay.Credit…Chandan Khanna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are two of the world’s wealthiest men. Both own private rocket companies. And in public, their relationship has been characterized by conflict.

In one notable put down, Mr. Musk responded, “Jeff who?” when an interviewer inquired about competition between SpaceX and Mr. Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin (which recently carried the Amazon founder to the edge of space).

But on Thursday after the Inspiration4 launch, everyone was being a bit nicer, at least on Twitter. Mr. Bezos congratulated Mr. Musk and SpaceX for the successful launch of a nonprofessional astronaut crew to orbit, a milestone in human spaceflight and something that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

Mr. Musk even replied politely.

While the two managed the brief parley on Twitter, there is plenty of conflict to come. After NASA gave SpaceX a contract to build its next spacecraft to carry astronauts to the surface of the moon, Blue Origin cried foul over failing to also receive one. When a regulatory challenge failed, Mr. Bezos’ company headed to federal court, where the dispute over the contract continues.

Credit…SpaceX

For most of the mission, if nothing goes wrong, the Crew Dragon spacecraft will operate autonomously with the assistance of SpaceX‘s mission control at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.

The astronauts’ main task is to monitor the spacecraft’s systems. In the case of malfunctions, however, the crew, especially Mr. Isaacman as the commander and Dr. Proctor as the pilot, have learned how to take over the flying of Resilience.

Jared Isaacman, left, and Hayley Arceneaux before the launch on Wednesday.Credit…John Raoux/Associated Press

Mr. Isaacman has declined to say how much he is paying for this orbital trip, only that it was less than the $200 million he hopes to raise for St. Jude Children’s Hospital with an accompanying fund-raising drive.

Jared Isaacman, Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor and Hayley Arceneaux arriving in Florida as they began their training for the launch this year.Credit…John Kraus/Agence France-Presse, via Inspiration4

For the mission, Mr. Isaacman named the four Crew Dragon seats to reflect positive aspects of humanity: leadership, hope, generosity and prosperity.

“We set out from the start to deliver a very inspiring message,” Mr. Isaacman said during a news conference on Tuesday, “and chose to do that through an interesting crew selection process.”

As commander for Inspiration4, Mr. Isaacman fills the leadership seat.

Mr. Isaacman gave two of the four seats to St. Jude. The hope seat was earmarked for a St. Jude health care worker, and hospital officials chose Ms. Arceneaux, who quickly said yes to the offer.

Another seat, generosity, was raffled off to raise money for the hospital. Mr. Sembroski entered, donating $50, but he did not win the sweepstakes, which helped raise $13 million for St. Jude. A friend of his, though, did — an old college buddy from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. The friend, who remains anonymous, decided not to go to space but, knowing about Mr. Sembroski’s enthusiasm, transferred the prize to him.

“I think that just really puts me in a very special spot,” Mr. Sembroski said, “where not only do I feel very lucky to be here but I have a huge responsibility to pay that forward and show that generosity towards others, and to bring that message to everyone else.”

The last seat, prosperity, was the prize in a contest run by Mr. Isaacman’s company, Shift4 Payments. Contestants used the company’s software to design an online store and then tweeted videos describing their entrepreneurial and space dreams. (Using the software, Dr. Proctor started selling her space-related artwork, and in her video, she read a poem that she wrote.)

Hayley Arceneaux is both a physician assistant at St. Jude hospital and a former patient, which helped her recover from pediatric cancer.Credit…Chandan Khanna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

When he announced Inspiration4 in February, Mr. Isaacman said he wanted it to be more than an extraterrestrial jaunt for rich people like him. He reached out to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, which treats children at no charge and develops cures for childhood cancers as well as other diseases. Mr. Isaacman offered to use the mission as a fund-raising vehicle for St. Jude, setting a $200 million target.

“If you’re going to accomplish all those great things out in space, all that progress, then you have an obligation to do some considerable good here on Earth, like making sure you conquer childhood cancer along the way,” he said.

So far, more than $130 million has been raised including the $100 million that Mr. Isaacman is personally donating to St. Jude.

“We are elated with where we are from a fund-raising perspective,” said Richard C. Shadyac Jr., the president of ALSAC, the fund-raising organization for St. Jude. “I couldn’t be more pleased. We’ll continue to strive for that $200 million goal.”

Mr. Isaacman, founder and chief executive of Shift4 Payments. Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

He grew up in New Jersey and in ninth grade started a company offering help to befuddled computer users. One of his clients was a payment processing company, and its chief executive offered him a job. Mr. Isaacman took the job and dropped out of high school at age 16. He obtained a general educational development certificate, or G.E.D.

After half a year, Mr. Isaacman figured out a new way to handle payment processing, and in 1999 he founded his own company in his parents’ basement. That evolved into Shift4 Payments, which went public in June 2020.

Mr. Isaacman started flying as a hobby, learning to pilot more and more advanced aircraft including military fighter jets. In 2012, he started a second company called Draken International, which owns fighter jets and provides training for pilots in the United States military. He has since sold Draken but still flies fighter jets for fun.

Last year, Mr. Isaacman wanted to invest in SpaceX, which remains a privately held company, but missed the latest investment offering by the company. Mr. Isaacman tried to convince SpaceX officials of his enthusiasm by telling them he wanted to buy a trip to orbit someday. That led to conversations that resulted in Mr. Isaacman undertaking the Inspiration4 mission. He is serving as the mission’s commander.

Sian Proctor was a finalist to be a NASA astronaut, but was not selected. She was invited to join the Inspiration4 mission.Credit…Inspiration 4/Via Reuters

Sian Proctor, 51, is a community college professor from Tempe, Ariz.

Dr. Proctor, who is African American and holds a doctorate in science education, had come close to becoming an astronaut the old-fashioned way. She said that in 2009, she was among 47 finalists whom NASA selected from 3,500 applications. The space agency chose nine new astronauts that year. Dr. Proctor was not one of them.

She applied twice more and was not even among the finalists.

She still pursued her space dreams in other ways. In 2013, Dr. Proctor was one of six people who lived for four months in a small building on the side of a Hawaiian volcano, part of an effort financed by NASA to study the isolation and stresses of a long trip to Mars.

She is the pilot on the Inspiration4 mission, the first Black woman to serve as the pilot of a spacecraft.

Hayley Arceneaux is both a physician assistant at St. Jude hospital and a former patient, which helped her recover from pediatric cancer.Credit…Chandan Khanna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Hayley Arceneaux, 29, is a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis. Almost two decades ago, Ms. Arceneaux, who grew up in the small town of St. Francisville, La., was a patient at St. Jude when bone cancer was diagnosed in her left leg, just above the knee. Ms. Arceneaux went through chemotherapy, an operation to install prosthetic leg bones and long sessions of physical therapy.

“When I grow up, I want to be a nurse at St. Jude,” she said in a video shown at the ceremony in 2003. “I want to be a mentor to patients. When they come in, I’ll say, ‘I had that when I was little, and I’m doing good.'”

Last year, Ms. Arceneaux was hired by St. Jude. She works with children with leukemia and lymphoma.

Ms. Arceneaux is the youngest American ever to travel to orbit. She will also be the first person with a prosthetic body part to go to space. She is the health officer for the mission.

Chris Sembroski was a Space Camp counselor when he was younger.Credit…Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Christopher Sembroski, 42, of Everett, Wash., works in data engineering for Lockheed Martin. During college, Mr. Sembroski worked as a counselor at Space Camp, an educational program in Huntsville, Ala., that offers children and families a taste of what life as an astronaut is like. He also volunteered for ProSpace, a nonprofit advocacy group that pushed to open space to more people.

Mr. Sembroski described himself as “that guy behind the scenes, that’s really helping other people accomplish their goals and to take center stage.”

He is the mission specialist for Inspiration4, and responsible for certain tasks during the mission.

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