A SpaceX capsule carrying the first all-civilian crew into space has touched back down on Earth after three days in orbit.
The four amateur astronauts orbited the planet every 90 minutes at a speed of more than 17,000mph and an altitude of up to 363 miles – higher than the International Space Station and Hubble Telescope – during their time in space.
The Dragon capsule safely parachuted into the ocean just before sunset on Saturday, off the Florida coast where the private flight began three days ago. Upon re-entry through the Earth’s atmosphere, Dragon’s surface reached temperatures 3,500F (1926C).
Commander Jared Isaacman, pilot Sian Proctor, medical officer Hayley Arceneaux and mission specialist Chris Sembrosk took part in the Inspiration4 mission, making them the first to circle the world without a professional astronaut.
“Your mission has shown the world that space is for all of us,” SpaceX Mission Control radioed as the capsule landed.
“It was a heck of a ride for us… just getting started,” replied trip sponsor Mr Isaacman, hinting at more private flights in the future.
Mr Isaacman, a billionaire, paid undisclosed millions for the trip for himself and his three guests – all of whom were strangers to him beforehand.
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The group wanted to show that ordinary people could blast into orbit by themselves, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk took them on as the company’s first rocket-riding tourists.
Following the landing Mr Musk, who is worth an estimated $196.3bn, tweeted, “congratulations!”
Mr Isaacman, a 38-year-old entrepreneur and experienced pilot, aimed to raise $200m (£145m) for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital through the trip.
Donating $100m himself (£72.5m), he held a lottery for one of the four seats. He also held a competition for clients of his Allentown, Pennsylvania payment-processing business, Shift4 Payments, for another of the spots.
These were won by Mr Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Everett, Washington, and Ms Proctor, 51, a community college educator, scientist and artist from Tempe, Arizona.
Splashdown! Welcome back to planet Earth, @Inspiration4x! pic.twitter.com/94yLjMBqWt
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 18, 2021
Ms Arceneaux, 29, a St Jude physician assistant who was treated at the Memphis, Tennessee hospital nearly two decades ago for bone cancer, took the last seat.
Together they spent six months training and preparing for potential emergencies during the flight but did not have to undergo the rigorous preparations that astronauts go through.
During the trip, the group was treated to unparalleled views of Earth through a large bubble-shaped window added to the top of the capsule.
They spent the time chatting with St Jude patients, conducted medical tests on themselves, rang the closing bell for the New York Stock Exchange, and complete some drawing and ukulele playing.
Ms Arceneaux, the youngest American in space and the first with a prosthesis, told her patients: “I was a little girl going through cancer treatment just like a lot of you, and if I can do this, you can do this.”
The four also took calls from Tom Cruise, interested in his own SpaceX flight to the space station for filming, and the rock band U2’s Bono.
They ate untypical space food: Cold pizza and sandwiches, pasta Bolognese and Mediterranean lamb.
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Nearly 600 people have reached space – a scorecard that began 60 years ago and is expected to soon skyrocket as space tourism heats up.
The group is the first to end their flight in the Atlantic since Apollo 9 in 1969. SpaceX’s two previous crew splashdowns – carrying astronauts for NASA – were in the Gulf of Mexico.
NASA had little to do with the mission, only lending the use of its Kennedy Space Centre launchpad.