“Thanks a lot SpaceX, it was a hell of a ride for us,” billionaire and mission commander “Inspiration4” Jared Isaacman was heard to say during the company’s livestream.
The Crew Dragon capsule, designed not to let the temperatures exceed 85º in the cabin, used its heat shield to protect the crew against the intense heat and the accumulation of plasma as they plunged back towards the ocean.
After emerging from the spaceship, just before being returned to Florida by helicopter, the crew were seen smiling and waving to the live cameras.
But the flight was apparently not completely flawless from a technical point of view. “You know we had a few issues that we worked on, we worked something on the waste management system,” Benji Reed, director of crew mission management at SpaceX, said during a post-flight briefing. “But it was good, and you know the crew were happy and healthy,” he added.
Inspiration4 Mission Director Todd Ericson said the issue was with the waste management system fan. The SpaceX team responded by implementing “a back-up plan.”
“I take my hat off to them,” Ericson added.
Reed also said there was an issue with a temperature sensor in one of the Draco thrusters used to move the capsule through space, but the company responded by taking the “dual redundant” sensor offline.
“And in fact, Draco himself was redundant, it was never a risk,” Reed said.
NASA officials have said, however, that the Crew Dragon is possibly the safest crewed vehicle ever flown. And the vehicle had already made two successful trips to space with professional astronauts on board before this group of space tourists made their multi-day ride.
Although they weren’t the first tourists to go to orbit, their mission, called Inspiration4, was remarkable because it did not involve a stay at the International Space Station under the tutelage of professional astronauts, as did previous missions involving space tourists. Instead, the four spaceflight novices have spent the last three days flying freely aboard their 13-foot-wide capsule at about 350 miles above sea level – 100 miles higher than where the ‘ISS, and higher than any human has flown in decades.
The Inspiration4 Twitter account also shared footage of Arceneaux speaking to his patients in St. Jude, and Isaacman rang the New York Stock Exchange closing bell via a satellite feed on Friday afternoon.
Other than that, few updates were shared with the public while the crew was in orbit. The first live audio or visual recordings from inside the crew capsule were shared on Friday afternoon, nearly two days after launch.
During previous SpaceX Crew Dragon missions – all of which were carried out for NASA and transported professional astronauts to the International Space Station – the public had more insight. The space agency and its dozens of communications staff have worked alongside SpaceX to share virtually every moment of the journey from launch to docking astronauts to the International Space Station.
But that mission left the public largely in the dark when it came to questions about the crew’s schedule and how they felt in orbit. Even though the development of the Crew Dragon spacecraft has been largely taxpayer funded, and SpaceX leases NASA facilities to support all of its missions, Inspiration4 is considered a private trade mission. This means that SpaceX customers only need to be as transparent as they want.
But favorable reviews of their experience could be crucial. SpaceX is hoping this mission will be the first in a long series, creating a new line of business for the company in which it uses Crew Dragon to conduct trade missions with tourists or private researchers rather than mere professional astronauts.
SpaceX already has contracts for five other private missions, as well as at least four additional missions under contract with NASA.