Pioneering tourist trip to orbit ends with a water landing

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This photo provided by SpaceX shows Inspiration4 passengers in the Dragon capsule on their first day in space. They are, from left to right, Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski and Sian Proctor. SpaceX put them in a 363 mile (585 kilometer) orbit after Wednesday night’s launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. It is 100 miles (160 kilometers) higher than the International Space Station. (SpaceX via AP)

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Four space tourists safely ended their pioneering orbit journey on Saturday with a water landing in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida.

Their SpaceX capsule was parachuted into the ocean just before sunset, not far from where their chartered flight began three days earlier.

The fully amateur crew were the first to tour the world without a professional astronaut.

The billionaire who paid undisclosed millions for the trip and his three guests wanted to show that ordinary people could get into orbit on their own, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk took them as the first tourists to ascend. on company rockets.

“Your mission has shown the world that space is for all of us,” SpaceX Mission Control said.

“It was one hell of a trip for us… I’m just getting started,” responded travel sponsor Jared Isaacman, referring to the growing number of private flights on the horizon.

SpaceX’s fully automated Dragon capsule reached an unusually high altitude of 363 miles (585 kilometers) after takeoff on Wednesday night. Passing 160 kilometers past the International Space Station, passengers savored views of Earth through a large bubble-shaped window added to the top of the capsule.

The four men made their way through the atmosphere early Saturday night, the first space travelers to complete their flight in the Atlantic from Apollo 9 in 1969. The previous two ditching SpaceX crew – carrying astronauts for NASA – were in the Gulf of Mexico.

Within minutes, a pair of SpaceX ships pulled up beside the floating capsule. When the hatch was opened on the salvage vessel, healthcare worker Hayley Arceneaux was the first to exit, smiling broadly and giving a thumbs up.

Everything seemed good and happy.

Next up: a helicopter ride back to shore for a reunion with their families at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the scene of their launch on Wednesday night.

This time, NASA was little more than an encouraging spectator, with its only connection being the Kennedy launch pad once used for Apollo lunar fire and shuttle crews, but now leased by SpaceX.

Isaacman, 38, an accomplished entrepreneur and pilot, aimed to raise $ 200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. By donating $ 100 million himself, he organized a lottery for one of the four seats. He also ran a competition for clients of his Allentown, Pa., Payment processing business, Shift4 Payments.

Arceneaux, 29, medical assistant from St. Jude who was treated at hospital in Memphis, Tennessee almost two decades ago for bone cancer, and competition winners Chris Sembroski, 42, data engineer in Everett, Wash., and Sian Proctor, 51, a community college teacher, scientist, and artist from Tempe, Arizona.

Foreigners until March, they spent six months training and preparing for potential emergencies during the flight, dubbed Inspiration4. Almost everything seemed to be going well, giving them time to chat with patients in St. Jude, perform medical tests on themselves, ring the closing bell on the New York Stock Exchange, and draw and paint. ukulele.

Arceneaux, the youngest American in space and the first to wear a prosthesis, assured her patients: “I was a little girl undergoing cancer treatment like many of you, and if I can. do, you can do it. “

They also got calls from Tom Cruise, interested in his own SpaceX flight to the space station for the shoot, and rock band U2’s Bono.

Even their space menu was not typical: cold pizzas and sandwiches, but also pasta bolognese and Mediterranean lamb.

Before starting the descent, Sembroski was so calm that he was seen in the capsule watching Mel Brooks’ 1987 film “Spaceballs” on his tablet.

Aside from issues with a toilet fan and a bad temperature sensor, the theft went extremely well, officials said.

“A very clean mission from start to finish,” said Benji Reed, senior director of SpaceX.

Nearly 600 people have reached space – a scorecard that started 60 years ago and is set to skyrocket soon as space tourism heats up.

Congratulations poured in, including from the Association of Space Explorers to its four new members.

Reed plans up to six private flights a year for SpaceX, sandwiched between astronaut launches for NASA. Four SpaceX flights are already booked to transport paying customers to the space station, accompanied by former NASA astronauts. The first is slated for early next year with three businessmen paying $ 55 million each. Russia also plans to hire an actor and director to shoot next month and a Japanese tycoon in December.

Customers interested in fast space travel are turning to Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. The two flew their own rockets to the far reaches of space in July to boost ticket sales; their flights lasted 10 to 15 minutes.

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Dawn Valle

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