SpaceX's all-civilian Inspiration4 astronaut crew flew a meteorite back to space (briefly)

Sian Proctor Inspiration4 meteorite
Inspiration4 astronaut Sian Proctor along with a Canyon Diablo meteorite. (Image credit: SpaceX) (Image credit: SpaceX)

After spending 50,000 years on Earth, a meteorite got the chance to visit space again for almost three days, during the all-civilian Inspiration4 mission in September.

Pilot Sian Proctor shared a video on Twitter (opens in new tab) Friday (Dec. 10) showing a fragment of the immense Canyon Diablo space rock that slammed into northern Arizona, forming Barringer Crater (better known as Meteor Crater.)

"This is the first meteorite brought back to space," Proctor said in the tweet, which showed the meteorite backdropped by a 360-degree cupola viewing window that took the place of SpaceX's traditional Crew Dragon docking mechanism. (Since Inspiration4 did not visit the International Space Station, it didn't need the mechanism.)

Inspiration4: SpaceX's historic private spaceflight in photos

A collaboration with Arizona State University allowed Proctor, a graduate of the institution, to fly the 4.4 ounce (127 gram) fragment to space. Over 30 metric tons of material have been recovered from the original impactor, according to ASU (opens in new tab), which had a diameter of between 98 and 164 feet (30 to 50 meters.)

Proctor thanked ASU professor Meenakshi (Mini) Wadhwa, director of the university's school of Earth and space exploration, for making the collaboration possible. Wadhwa announced the meteorite's brief space journey in a tweet (opens in new tab) in October, adding the rock will be placed on permanent display at the school's gallery of exploration.

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It appears the practice for recovering rocks from space will come in handy for Wadhwa. She is also program scientist for NASA's Mars sample return mission expected to bring back part of the Red Planet to Earth in 2031. "In this role, Wadhwa will be responsible for the scientific integrity and the overall scientific success of the program," ASU officials wrote (opens in new tab) when she was appointed to the position in April.

A major goal of the Inspiration4 mission, besides flying four civilians to space funded by billionaire participant Jared Isaacman, was to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. The mission exceeded its fundraising goal by landing day. 

As for Proctor, during the mission she emphasized her hope for space to one day align with the "JEDI" acronym, which stands for just, equitable, diverse and inclusive. Proctor, 51, was the first female Black pilot in space and the oldest Black woman astronaut.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace