Sept. 18, 2021, 4:29 p.m. ET
Sept. 18, 2021, 4:29 p.m. ET
Editing Space Coverage
Out of their flight suits, back into their space suits; SpaceX just tweeted that the crew of Inspiration4 have suited up ahead of their return to Earth.
The crew of Inspiration4 lifted off on time from the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday at 8:02 p.m. Eastern time. It was a flawless flight to orbit.
The evening sky was nearly devoid of clouds when the nine engines of the Falcon 9 rocket ignited, lifting the rocket and its passengers to space.
Once the flight launched, the crew’s enthusiasm was unbowed by the forces pressing down on them, as a video inside the capsule showed Sian Proctor, the flight’s pilot, and Christopher Sembroski, the mission specialist, fist-bumping.
The capsule then headed to an orbit some 360 miles up, higher than the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope. Indeed, the Inspiration4 crew will be farther from Earth than anyone else since the space shuttles worked on the Hubble in the 1990s.
While some spacecraft land on the ground, Crew Dragon, the SpaceX capsule that carried the Inspiration4 crew to orbit, does water landings. It’s much like the method used by NASA astronauts to return to Earth during the Apollo, Gemini and Mercury eras. The splashdowns occur off the coast of Florida, either in the Gulf of Mexico or in the Atlantic Ocean — SpaceX has selected the Atlantic for this mission. Two NASA missions returning crews from the International Space Station have splashed down safely in the past year, one of them at night.
Because the Inspiration4 mission is considerably higher than earlier Crew Dragon missions, it started dropping in altitude on Friday night, to about 225 miles from 360 miles, in order to get into better position for re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Dragon will perform two burns tonight to reduce the spacecraft’s altitude to ~365km and line up the ground track with the landing site
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 17, 2021
Later on Saturday, shortly before preparing to land, the vehicle will jettison what SpaceX calls the “trunk” section of the spacecraft — the cylindrical compartment below the gumdrop-shaped capsule. The trunk will burn up in the atmosphere.
Then the capsule will begin firing its thrusters to drop out of orbit. Once it is low enough in Earth’s atmosphere, parachutes will deploy to gently lower the capsule into the sea.
After three days in orbit, the crew of the Inspiration4 mission — the first trip to orbit where no one aboard is a professional astronaut — is headed home to Earth.
The Crew Dragon capsule that is carrying the astronauts is scheduled to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida at 7:06 p.m. Eastern time. SpaceX will stream video of the landing and recovery of the capsule on their YouTube page.
In the event that weather prevented the astronauts from returning, the crew could circle the planet for an extended period of time. In response to a CNBC reporter’s question about the potential for a delayed return to Earth because of weather or other factors, Jared Isaacman, the billionaire who commands the mission and financed it, said on Tuesday they would be able to stay in space for “about a week.”
REad More:SpaceX Inspiration4 Mission Updates: Hours Away From Home.