Inspiration4’s ‘all-civilian’ spacefliers share orbital activities — including a ukulele solo

·5 min read
Inspiration4 crew in space
Inspiration4 crewmates Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski and Sian Proctor check in via a video link. (Inspiration4 Photo)

On the eve of their scheduled return from orbit, four amateur spacefliers brought the world up to date on their activities — an out-of-this-world routine that focused on raising money for charity and gazing out the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule’s bubble-shaped cupola window.

Inspiration4 crew member Chris Sembroski, a Lockheed Martin data engineer who hails from Everett, Wash., even strummed a serenade on a custom-made ukulele.

“I can play a little for you,” he said today over a space-to-Earth video link. “You can turn your volume down if you wish, but I’ll give it a shot.”

Sembroski’s music sounded just fine; nevertheless, he followed up the performance with a promise. “It’s still before coffee, so it’ll get better as the day goes on,” he said.

The ukulele, like many of the other items that the foursome brought with them for Wednesday’s launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, will be sold off to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

Supporting St. Jude’s mission to treat childhood cancer is the philanthropic goal behind the Inspiration4 mission, as conceived by Jared Isaacman, Shift4 Payments’ billionaire founder and CEO. Isaacman, an amateur pilot who created his own private fleet of fighter jets, is paying the multimillion-dollar cost of the mission and serves as its commander.

Sembroski was added to the flight when a college buddy of his won a charity sweepstakes for a ticket to space — and essentially gave the ticket to Sembroski instead. The two other citizen spacefliers are Sian Proctor, an educator and artist who won an online competition for users of Shift4’s online payment system; and Hayley Arceneaux, a cancer survivor who is now a physician assistant at St. Jude.

This flight made Arceneaux, 29, the youngest American in space as well as the first person to go into space with a prosthesis (a titanium rod that was placed in her leg during cancer treatment). Proctor is the first Black female space pilot. And taken together, Inspiration4’s foursome is the first crew to go into orbit without a professional astronaut in their midst.

During their flight, the spacefliers are conducting a series of medical experiments, including tests of ultrasound monitors for checking intercranial pressure — which is a growing concern for long-term spaceflight. They’re having their vital signs checked, and samples will be studied to look for for changes in the microbiome.

Much of the mission’s to-do list had to do with fundraising and outreach for St. Jude: Arceneaux presided over a video meetup with cancer patients and their families. “I just want you all to know that we’re doing this you,” she said. “We are thinking about you so much. I want to tell you that 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.”

Isaacman placed the first sports bets made from space, with the winnings earmarked for the hospital. (He won one of the bets on Thursday night, but will have to wait to find out if his Super Bowl bet pays off.) And Sembroski’s ukulele won’t be the only item auctioned off for charity: Proctor’s space-made artwork, an autographed copy of Time magazine and dozens of digital NFT creations will also come up for sale.

Clones of the mission’s zero-G indicator — a spacesuit-clad plush puppy that has become the mission’s unofficial mascot — were selling for $24 in St. Jude’s online gift shop. (The pups are currently sold out, but the hospital is promising to restock the shelves.) Meanwhile, the Samuel Adams brewery is making a $100,000 donation to St. Jude in return for getting the chance to turn 66 pounds of space-flown hops into a limited-edition batch of beer.

The schedule still leaves plenty of time for doing tricks in zero gravity and taking turns looking through the SpaceX Crew Dragon’s cupola, which was added for this mission because the spacecraft doesn’t have to dock with the International Space Station — as was the case for SpaceX’s first three crewed flights to orbit. The Crew Dragon in use for this mission, dubbed Resilience, had its initial outing as the conveyance for a space station crew last year.

By all accounts, Resilience is performing flawlessly in autonomous mode, and there’s been no report that Isaacman has had to take the controls. The spacecraft has been reaching a maximum altitude of 585 kilometers (364 miles), which is 100 miles higher than the International Space Station and the highest that humans have flown since the space shuttle Discovery visited the Hubble Space Telescope in 1999.

Splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida, is currently scheduled for 7:06 p.m. ET (4:06 p.m. PT) Saturday. Here are other updates on the crew’s orbital activities from Inspiration4’s Twitter account:

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