STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION
The first all-civilian, privately-funded crew to reach orbit came through their initial hours in weightless environment of space “healthy, happy and resting comfortably,” SpaceX reported Thursday.
Company founder Elon Musk added: “Just spoke with (Inspiration4) crew. All is well.”
But no immediate word on what they talked about or any details about the progress of the historic mission.
Unlike NASA space flights, in which space-to-ground communications between astronauts and flight controllers are carried out in the open, there has been no public radio traffic with the Inspiration4 crew and no downlinked photographs or video since reaching orbit Wednesday after launch from the Kennedy Space Center.
The only updates so far have come in a handful of Twitter postings from SpaceX, verifying two rocket firings Wednesday night to put the Crew Dragon capsule in a record 365-mile-high circular orbit — slightly higher than planned — and reporting the crew is in good shape.
“Dragon continues to remain in its intended target orbit, with altitudes as high as 590km above the Earth’s surface,” the company tweeted Thursday. “The @Inspiration4x crew is healthy, happy and resting comfortably. Before the crew went to bed, they traveled 5.5 times around Earth, completed their first round of scientific research, and enjoyed a couple of meals.”
The @Inspiration4x crew is healthy, happy, and resting comfortably. Before the crew went to bed, they traveled 5.5 times around Earth, completed their first round of scientific research, and enjoyed a couple of meals
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 16, 2021
Even Amazon-founder and space rival Jeff Bezos tweeted congratulations “to @ElonMusk and the @SpaceX team on their successful Inspiration4 launch last night. Another step towards a future where space is accessible to all of us.”
Congratulations to @ElonMusk and the @SpaceX team on their successful Inspiration4 launch last night. Another step towards a future where space is accessible to all of us.
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) September 16, 2021
The three-day mission, referred to by SpaceX as Inspiration4x, is expected to end with an Atlantic Ocean splashdown Saturday evening, weather permitting.
Billionaire entrepreneur and adventurer Jared Isaacman paid for the flight as part of a project to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. At the same time, he can claim the distinction of leading the first all-civilian non-government flight to orbit.
Isaacman, who covered half the fund-raising goal himself, said he wanted to raise money for the famed hospital “because I do know how lucky I’ve been in life.”
“There are a lot of families that have been dealt a really, really horrible hand in life that don’t get to grow up and experience anything close to what we’re able to go through (with Inspiration4), he said. “So just felt like we had to do something about it. That’s why St. Jude became such a big part of the mission.”
Joining him aboard the Crew Dragon capsule are Sian Proctor, a science educator, artist and one-time astronaut candidate; aerospace engineer Chris Sembroski; and Hayley Arceneaux, a childhood cancer survivor who was treated at St. Jude and now works there as a physician assistant.
Arceneaux was recommended by St. Jude while Proctor won her seat in an on-line contest using Isaacman’s Shift4 payment processing company to sell her art and raise money for St. Jude. Sembroski entered and lost, but was given his seat by a friend who won and decided not to fly.
The crew is working 16-hour days aboard the Crew Dragon, getting up around 1 p.m. EDT, and carrying out medical research to learn more about the physiological effects of weightlessness. They were expected to chat with St. Jude patients Thursday afternoon or evening, but no live broadcasts from orbit were expected.
Along with their planned research, the Inspiration4x fliers will be enjoying the view from an orbit 100 miles higher than the International Space Station, taking advantage of a transparent dome added to the Crew Dragon in place of the docking mechanism used by space station-bound astronauts.
SpaceX tweeted a photograph of the cupola overnight Wednesday showing a visibly smaller Earth in the background than what astronauts see from the space station. SpaceX said the crew would open the capsule’s upper hatch Thursday to get their first views from the cupola.
“After the crew wakes up today, they will conduct additional research and get their first look out of Dragon’s cupola!”