Updated: September 17, 2021 8:13:58 am
Written By Kenneth Chang
The crew of the Inspiration4 mission is flying safely around Earth, SpaceX said in a Twitter update Wednesday afternoon. But the altitude that they are orbiting at is not as unusual as some space commentators have said.
Andy Tran, a production supervisor for SpaceX, spoke during a livestream Tuesday covering the launch of the Inspiration4 mission: “They’re going to be higher than the International Space Station, higher than the Hubble Telescope, honestly higher than any humans other than those who went to the moon.”
That is not true. The Inspiration4 crew is as far as 366 miles above Earth, which is more than 100 miles higher than the International Space Station. And they are farther from the planet than most astronauts who have gone to space since the end of NASA’s Apollo program in the 1970s.
But the space shuttle mission that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 was in an elliptical orbit that went as high as 386 miles above Earth. And in 1999, a mission to repair and upgrade that telescope was in an orbit that reached an altitude of 378 miles. Astronauts on both missions traveled farther from Earth than the crew members of Inspiration4.
All of this illustrates how close humans have remained to home since the end of Apollo. The moon is almost 240,000 miles from Earth. Since Apollo 17 returned in 1972, no one has traveled more than 400 miles away from the planet, and that will not change until the first crewed mission of NASA’s Artemis program, which is tentatively scheduled for late 2023.
Unlike with NASA missions, there is little information about the Inspiration4 crew. SpaceX reported on Twitter that the crew members are “healthy, happy and resting comfortably,” that they had performed the first round of scientific research, and that they had eaten a couple of meals and slept.
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SpaceX also tweeted a photograph of the glass dome at the top of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, although there was no one inside it at the time.
As private space travelers and not NASA employees, the SpaceX crew can choose to maintain a veil of privacy around their activities. More images and video will eventually be shown in the final episode of a Netflix documentary series about the mission. It is also possible that the crew could participate in live public broadcasts from space, but no plans have been announced yet.
Capsule Full of Cargo, and MementosThe Inspiration4 capsule is transporting a slew of items into space that will be auctioned when the crew returns to Earth to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The cargo includes the ukulele that Christopher Sembroski, a crew member, will be playing. There are also mission jackets, original artwork and 66 pounds of hops that the Sam Adams brewery will use for the mission’s official beer.
— Inspiration4 (@inspiration4x) September 15, 2021
The auction items are posted at stjude.org/inspiration4.
The crew is also carrying up a unique digital file, also known as a NFT, of a live performance by the Kings of Leon of its new song, “Time in Disguise.” That will also be auctioned.
“We’re going to jam to it on orbit,” Hayley Arceneaux, another crew member, said.
The astronauts are also allowed to bring personal items to space.
Arceneaux is bringing a photo of herself at age 10, when she was going through bone cancer treatment at St. Jude’s, where she now works. She wants to hold the picture in space to give hope to her patients, and other children going through cancer treatment.
“There is a future,” she said. “It gets better.”
Jared Isaacman, the mission’s commander who is paying for the trip, said he is taking custom dragon pendants he had made for his wife and two daughters, in keeping with the theme of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. He said he hopes the items are passed down to future generations of his family.
Sembroski is taking two pins that belonged to his mother-in-law’s great-grandmother, and Sian Proctor is taking rings her father and mother wore when they were alive. Proctor is also taking a commemorative coin from Guam from the year she was born, which was given to her by her parents.