Inspiration 4 – The First All Civilian Space Flight

Photo by: Matt Cutshall – NHS

September 15th 8:02 PM Est atop a Falcon 9 from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center

With a five hour launch window opening at 8:02 PM Est from the Kennedy Space Center, crews looked to launch right at the start of that window. Just twenty two minutes after official sundown in Titusville Florida, the cool air was setting in over a gorgeous sunset on the space coast. Electricity was in the air as media representatives and VIPs from across the country waited eagerly in the LC-39 press site, setting up cameras, and video streams for hours ahead of launch time. Time magazine with Netflix had two NASA astronauts live on the air as well. It as a scene from the Apollo days this evening as hundreds of personnel stood out there eager to break their story. The streets surround Titusville itself were lined with crowds along the river. All those who couldn’t be onsite for the launch vying to be as close as they could for this moment in history.

Just two and a half hours before launch Jared Isaacman, Haley Arceneaux, Dr. Sian Proctor, and Chris Sembroski walked out of the Hanger X, a new SpaceX facility on the Kennedy Space Center to hundreds of VIPs and Elon Musk himself as the loaded into their rides, two Tesla vehicles which would take them to the launch complex where they would don their space suits and strap into their Crew Dragon launch vehicle. When the four reached the top of the tower at LC-39A they used a phone to call their loved ones, one last time before lift off. This same phone used by every astronaut leading back to Alan Shepard, the first American in space. The first civilians to ever do so. The next stop was to walk across the crew access arm and enter their Dragon. First however they had one more tradition to fulfil. Every Astronaut to launch with SpaceX has signed the NASA Meatball logo at the end of the crew access arm. Our Inspiration 4 crew didn’t sign that logo, instead signing the SpaceX logo just next to it, the first people to ever do so at that. From there it really was time to get into the spacecraft. Crews helped the four into their seats and strapped them. The seats then reclining into a launch ready position. It was now just two hours until the expected T-zero. When final checks were done on the crews and to make sure their spacesuits had no leaks, the hatch was sealed and additional checks were done on the Dragon capsule.

Lift off. Photo by: Kyle Montgomery – NHS

With everything checking out the crew access arm was retracted and the four were left all alone to contemplate their decision to leave Earth. For what must have seemed eternity to them, and us as well who were full of anticipation about the launch they sat and they sat. Finally the GO/NO GO decision was made. GO FOR LAUNCH. Through out the next forty-five minutes the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was loaded with fuel. Inside the capsule these four civilians were the first non astronauts to hear the groans and rumbles of a rocket being filled with propellant. With just two minutes left on the countdown clock both the first and second stage of the rocket were now fully fueled and ready to go. Weather conditions were still just about perfect for this new era of space flight to begin. All mechanical and electrical systems were still reading fine and the final call was made.

At 8:02 PM Est a sudden flash from beneath the rocket struck out like a match, only the flame continued to grow and grow. There would be no extinguisher that could stop this fire as the nine Merlin 1D engines pushed out almost 1.8 million pounds of thrust to get this mission underway. Cheers erupted from all around the cape, and viewers at home as we saw every day people start their journey to space. Knowing that this could have easily been me or you, know that this was people with every day jobs (mostly) and the average person made us all feel connected to them. As the rocket burned through the sky, slowly at first the quickly moving up the coast turned to day. Those flames almost hard to stare at as they burned so bright. I felt like they were especially bright tonight, perhaps it was as this rocket carried the hopes and dreams of millions wishing to travel to space one day. It was announced that the crew had passed through Max Q, or the moment at which the most aerodynamic forces are on the rocket and a sense of relief washed over the onlookers. That is usually the most dangerous part of a rocket launch. Seconds later the first stage and second stage separated. The first stage, booster 10062 returned to home. Rather the sea at the point really as it would land back on the drone ship “Just Read the Instructions” out in the Atlantic Ocean. The second stage of the rocket ignited, now pushing the crew of Inspiration 4 deeper into space. In fact they are going farther out than the ISS (International Space Station) which has not happened since the 90’s where a mission to fix the Hubble Space Telescope was made. As the sun had just set about thirty minutes prior a light show was performed by the two stages of the rocket when the left each other. In what we call the Jellyfish effect, which is when the angle of light hits the propellant being burned by the systems illuminates the sky making ripples not unlike what a jellyfish looks like. For what seems like minutes crowds stared in awe of the show.

Photo by: Zac Shaul – NHS

Now, just eight and a half minutes after launch that first stage booster touched back down on the drone ship and the mission was well underway. We lost site of the light show and sky was engulfed in darkness once again. Then from the South there was a faint light streaking across the sky. That International Space Station we mentioned earlier was making a pass of the space coast. We don’t know for sure yet but we have to hope the crews of each could see each other as they passed by in the vastness of space. We’ve also have not had an official update, picture, or video from the Inspiration 4 crew since launch but we know they’ve spoken to their families and are doing well so far on their three day journey around the planet.

Amongst the record for first all civilian space flight many more records have been and will be made during this journey of the ages. Dr. Sian Proctor is now the fourth black female to venture into orbit and is the first ever to pilot a space craft. Haley Arceneaux, the bone cancer survivor now Physicians Assistant at St. Jude is the first person to enter space with a prosthetic. On a wider scale there are now currently fourteen humans not on Earth which is one more person than the previous record. If you were wonder as well, there is now a total of nine toilets in space, which is also a regular question asked by younger audiences to NASA astronauts.