In between playfully snacking on M&Ms, the all-civilian Inspiration4 crew took a break from their science-heavy mission to chat with kid patients from a Memphis children’s hospital.
The three-day Earth-orbiting mission, which launched Wednesday (Sept. 15), aims to raise $200 million and a lot of publicity for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which is where the adorable press conference came in.
Among the four crew members on the private SpaceX mission is former hospital cancer patient Haley Arceneaux, 29, who is the first astronaut to fly with a prosthetic. Arceneaux is now a physician assistant for St. Jude. She floated upside-down for most of the brief press conference, available on YouTube.
“I just want you all to know that we’re doing this for you,” Arceneaux said. “We are thinking about you so much, I wanted to tell you that I was a little girl going through cancer treatment, just like a lot of you. If I can do this, you can do this, and I’m so proud of each and every one of you.”
Crew commander and billionaire Jared Isaacman, 38, paid a reported $200 million for the opportunity to fly the crew higher in Earth orbit than anyone else has flown since the Apollo era. Answering a question from a patient, Tyler, about why the mission is taking place, Isaacman said he feels there is still a lot to do in space.
“There’s an awful lot of it [space], and we know so little about it,” he said. “There may be some really interesting answers to questions we’ve all been asking for a long time out there, so we have to do tha. But we also have to pay attention to some of the real responsibilities we have on Earth as well. That’s why St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is such an important part of our mission.”
Sian Proctor, 51, is a long-time analog astronaut who is now in space for real, becoming the first Black female spacecraft pilot in orbit. A patient, Eva, asked her and the rest of the crew about the sleeping bags they were using in space.
“If you’ve ever been camping, we pretty much had those same kind of sleeping bags,” she explained. “Last night was the first time we had our first sleep here in space. It was really cool because we were in our sleeping bags on top of our chairs, but we were floating on top of the chairs, and we had a seat belt around our sleeping bag, so we didn’t fly away when we were sleeping.”
Lockheed Martin employee and former Space Camp counselor Chris Sembroski held M&Ms for the rest of the crew and distributed them in between questions, which led to some fun moments as the astronauts jostled for position to grab the floating candies. Arceneaux even interrupted one of her questions for a moment to dive head-first for an M&M floating right by her upside-down head.[embedded content]
The crew appears to be making the best use possible of the small SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft during their mission and took a moment to show the patients the incredible view outside the domed window flying in place of a docking mechanism. (Inspiration4 will not dock with the International Space Station, which is what Crew Dragons have historically been used for.)
While the crew are not trained astronauts, Arceneaux paid tribute to the six months of work the quartet put into the mission to get to know each other, through experiences like water survival and a zero-gravity flight. Besides the crew experience, she noted, “it was a lot of learning, a lot of studying PowerPoints, going through materials and then we got to do some really cool hands-on stuff.”
The crew also asked questions about why they don’t fall in space, their favorite space food (Proctor planned to have pizza for the second night in a row) and if there are astronauts on the moon yet (Proctor said soon, referring to NASA’s Artemis program.)
The crew is expected to splash down late Saturday (Sept. 18) or early Sunday (Sept. 19).
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.