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SpaceX's first all-civilian crew returns to Earth

SpaceX's Dragon splashed down in the Atlantic ocean at approximately 6:06 p.m. Houston time.

After three days orbiting Earth, SpaceX's Dragon and the Inspiration4 crew – the world’s first all-civilian mission to orbit – returned to Earth on Saturday.

The ship splashed down in the Atlantic ocean at approximately 6:06 p.m. Houston time.

The all-civilian Inspiration4 crew blasted off to space on Wednesday, September 15. Once in space, the crew embarked on a multi-day journey in low Earth orbit at more than 17,000 miles per hour. The crew also conducted experiments "designed to expand our knowledge of the universe." According to SpaceX, the research will look at the impact of spaceflight on the human body. 

Watch coverage of the Inspiration4 crew launching into space:

Data collected will then be used to uncover potential applications on human health for future spaceflights and benefits for those on Earth.  

Who is on the crew?

Jared Isaacman: The 38-year-old billionaire, founder/CEO of Shift4 Payments and an accomplished jet pilot who funded the trip will serve as the mission's commander. He will fulfill the Inspiration4 pillar of leadership.

"In fulfilling a personal and lifelong dream, I recognize the tremendous responsibility that comes with commanding this mission," he said, in part, of his role.

Hayley Arceneaux: The 29-year-old childhood cancer survivor who now works at St. Jude, the hospital system that helped save her life, will serve as the mission's medical officer. She was selected to fulfill the Inspiration4 pillar of hope.

Chris Sembroski: The 41-year-old aerospace industry employee and U.S. Air Force veteran who "grew up with a natural curiosity about outer space" will serve as a mission specialist. He was selected to fulfill the Inspiration4 pillar of generosity. 

Dr. Sian Proctor: The 51-year-old entrepreneur, educator, trained pilot and "active voice in the space exploration community" will serve as the mission's pilot. She was selected to fulfill the Inspiration4 pillar of prosperity.

Until this all-amateur crew, relatively few NASA astronauts had soared that high. The most recent were the shuttle astronauts who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope over multiple flights in the 1990s and 2000s.

To enhance the views, SpaceX outfitted the Dragon capsule with a custom, bubble-shaped dome. Photos of them looking out this large window were posted online, otherwise little else had been publicly released of their first day in space.

The crew has talked to Tom Cruise while in space and has even chatted with young cancer patients. Hayley Arceneaux, a childhood cancer survivor, led the conversation from orbit with patients from the hospital that saved her life almost 20 years ago, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. A 6-year-old-boy wanted to know if there are cows on the moon — like in the nursery rhyme.

“I hope there will be one day. Right now, no, there aren’t,” replied another passenger, Sian Proctor. “We’re going to go back to the moon soon and we’re going to investigate all kinds of things about it.”

The video linkup was not broadcast live, but shared by St. Jude on Friday. Seeing the Earth from so high is “so beautiful," Arceneaux told them.

Now a physician assistant at St. Jude, Arceneaux is the youngest American in space at age 29.

Isaacman purchased the entire flight for an undisclosed amount. He’s seeking to raise $200 million for St. Jude through the flight he’s named Inspiration4, half of that coming from his own pocket.

The two other Dragon riders won their seats through a pair of contests sponsored by Isaacman: Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer, and Proctor, 51, a community college educator.

During the broadcast Friday afternoon, Sembroski played a ukulele that will be auctioned off for St. Jude. “You can turn your volume down if you wish, but I'll give it a shot,” he said.

Proctor, who is an artist, showed off a drawing in her sketchbook of a Dragon capsule being carried by a mythological dragon away from Earth.

All four share SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s quest to open space to everyone.

“Missions like Inspiration4 help advance spaceflight to enable ultimately anyone to go to orbit & beyond,” Musk tweeted Thursday after chatting with his orbiting pioneers.

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