The Inspiration4 crew was resting and recovering Sunday after returning from their historic three-day space mission, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.
And they surpassed their goal of raising $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital thanks to a $50 million donation by SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
The four crew members were the first civilians to fly a completely private orbital space mission unaccompanied by professional astronauts.
“The absolute most incredible experience of my life,” tweeted Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old physician assistant at St. Jude who served as chief medical officer the mission. “Can’t wait to share more with you all!”
Jared Isaacman, 38, the billionaire founder of Shift4 Payments, an internet payment processing company, paid SpaceX an undisclosed amount for him and three others to orbit the Earth for three days.
Besides Arceneaux, who was treated for bone cancer at St. Jude as a child, he was accompanied by Sian Proctor, 51, a geology professor and science communicator; and Chris Sembroski, 42, a Lockheed Martin engineer and Air Force veteran.
An exclusive interview of the four by NBC News anchor Lester Holt is slated to run on NBC’s Today show Monday morning and on NBC Nightly News in the evening.
After splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Canaveral at 7:06 p.m. the Crew Dragon was hauled aboard SpaceX’s Go Searcher support boat. The crew was then flown by helicopter to Kennedy Space Center, where they were reunited with their families.
“What an amazing adventure! I’m so glad to be home on earth and to be back with my family,” Sembroski tweeted. “There is so much to share! What an amazing @inspiration4x team! Thanks @SpaceX!”
The mission aimed to raise $200 million for St. Jude, the famed Memphis, Tennessee-based research hospital that focuses on childhood cancers and pediatric diseases, with Isaacman pledging the first $100 million.
By splashdown more than $60 million more had been raised through livestreams, contests to win seats on Dragon, and other public events.
Then came this simple tweet from Musk: Count me in for $50M.
“This brings tears to my eyes,” tweeted Arceneaux in response. “Thank you @elonmusk for this generous donation toward our $200 million dollar fundraising goal for @StJude!!!”
The crew conducted medical research during their three days in orbit, which hopefully will give researchers a better understanding on how space travel impacts “ordinary people.” Only about 600 people have ever flown in space, the vast majority relatively young Caucasian men in excellent physical condition.
In one way, the crew proved similar to professional astronauts: They experienced some space sickness, or “space adaption syndrome,” during the first day in orbit as they got use to being in microgravity environment. But their experience was about on par with that of NASA astronauts.
“That shows that average men and women are not any more or less prone to space adaptation syndrome than, you know, NASA astronauts, which I think is going to be some of the amazing science that this mission brings,” said Inspiration4 Mission Director Todd “Leif” Ericson during a post-splashdown press briefing. “This is opening up a whole new chapter in spaceflight.”
Space enthusiasts hope that new chapter includes a lot more space trips for non-professional astronauts and a price tag that eventually becomes affordable for people other than billionaires. The Resilience capsule used by Inspiration4 is going to be refurbished and used next year to ferry one professional astronaut and three others to the International Space Station for an eight-day visit.
NASA even said last year it was in discussions with Tom Cruise to film a movie on the ISS.
There have been no more updates on the Cruise movie deal since last year, but a movie is set to be filmed at the ISS next month.
A Russian actress and director are set to head to the station next month aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. They will film scenes for a movie about a surgeon sent to the ISS to save a Russian astronaut.
“There’s tons of interest,” said Benji Reed, director of human spaceflight programs for SpaceX. “And it’s growing now, a lot.”
Reed said he could see SpaceX fairly quickly transitioning to flying five or six private space missions a year.
SpaceX doesn’t talk about pricing for its commercial missions, but The Washington Post reported that the three men SpaceX is flying to the ISS next year are paying $55 million each. That is the same amount NASA pays the company to fly one of its astronauts to the station.
SpaceX says it expects the price of space travel to come down quickly and become more common. It often compares space tourism to airplane travel, which at first was only available to the wealthy in the early days of commercial aviation.
Still based on current pricing, it’s hard to image space travel being affordable to the middle-class anytime soon. For comparison, the price of a one-way ticket on a Pan Am China Clipper — the most luxurious airplane of the 1930s —flight from San Francisco to Manila was $950, the equivalent of about $19,000 today, and that included overnight stays in Pan Am hotels in Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island and Guam.
Still, the Inspiration4 mission proved that you don’t need to be a square-jawed, crewcut fighter pilot to have the “Right Stuff.”
“Welcome to the second Space Age,” Ericson said.