WASHINGTON — Four SpaceX tourists landed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida Saturday evening after spending three days in space, successfully concluding the first orbital mission in history with no professional astronauts on board.
The SpaceX Dragon capsule’s heat shield allowed it to withstand the descent, before it was slowed down by four large parachutes and then splashed into the ocean just after 7:00 p.m. (2300 GMT), according to a live video feed by the company.
A SpaceX boat immediately raced to retrieve the capsule, before its hatch can be opened and the astronauts can exit. They will be transported by helicopter to the Kennedy Space Center, where on Wednesday they took off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.
“That was a heck of a ride for us, and we’re just getting started,” said billionaire captain Jared Isaacman, who financed the trip.
The stated goal of the mission, called Inspiration4, was to encourage the democratization of space by proving that the cosmos are accessible to crews that have neither been handpicked nor in training for years.
Isaacman, who paid SpaceX tens of millions of dollars, offered the other three seats to strangers: Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old nurse; Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old professor; and Chris Sembroski, 42, a US Air Force veteran.
The Dragon capsule traveled farther than the International Space Station (ISS) at an orbit of about 575 kilometers (357 miles) high, and circled the globe more than 15 times each day.
The landing marked the third time that Elon Musk’s company has taken humans to space and back, after the return of two NASA missions, one in August 2020 and another in May of this year. Both were bringing astronauts back from a stay at the ISS.
Unlike NASA astronauts, the members of the Inspiration4 mission did not go to the ISS but remained in orbit around the Earth.
During the flight, the crew members’ vital signs were monitored to study the effects of the environment of space on complete novices.