Four space tourists on board the SpaceX's Dragon capsule safely ended their trip with a splash down off Florida’s coast on Saturday, 18 September, completing the first-ever three-day mission in Earth’s orbit with no professional astronauts on board, news agency AP reported.
Their SpaceX capsule splashed down into the Atlantic just before sunset, close to where their chartered flight took off from.
“Your mission has shown the world that space is for all of us,” SpaceX Mission Control said on radio.
Following Wednesday night’s blast off, SpaceX’s fully automated Dragon capsule reached an unusually high altitude of 363 miles, exceeding the International Space Station by 100 miles.
Referring to the prospect of a growing number of private flights, trip sponsor Jared Isaacman said, “It was a heck of a ride for us ... just getting started."
The space tourists viewed Earth through a big bubble-shaped window added to the top of the capsule, and were the first space travellers to end their flight in the Atlantic since Apollo 9 in 1969.
The previous two crew splashdowns of SpaceX, carrying astronauts for NASA, were in the Gulf of Mexico.
Thirty-eight-year-old Isaacman, an entrepreneur and an accomplished pilot, aimed to raise $200 million for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He donated $100 million himself and held a lottery for one of the four seats.
Joining him on the flight were 29-year-old Hayley Arceneaux, a St Jude physician assistant who was treated for bone cancer nearly two decades ago, and contest winners Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Washington, and 51-year-old Sian Proctor, a community college educator, scientist and artist from Arizona, AP reported.
Proctor, the pilot of the mission, thanked SpaceX and Elon Musk in a tweet and said that she had the best ride of her life.
She added in another tweet, "Nothing but gratitude!! Thank you to everyone who helped make our mission a success and supported us through this historic journey."
Proctor said she was selected as the pilot of the space mission in 2021.
She was quoted as saying, "Before becoming an astronaut, I was an analog astronaut. Analog astronauts engage in a wide range of research such as human physiology, psychology, crew cohesion, exercise, and nutritional studies along with testing cutting-edge science, technology, & engineering applications", NDTV reported.
The four space tourists spent six months training and preparing for potential emergencies during the flight — but there was no need to step in, officials said after their return.
The youngest American in space, Arceneaux, was quoted as saying, “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.”
Benji Reed, a SpaceX senior director said, “It was a very clean mission from start to finish.”
Moreover, Reed anticipates as many as six private flights a year for SpaceX, with four SpaceX flights already booked to carry paying customers to the space station, accompanied by former NASA astronauts. The first one is scheduled for next year with three businessmen paying $55 million apiece.
(With inputs from AP and NDTV)