The Inspiration4 crew says they hope the diversity of their astronauts helped inspire others and told NBC News that the spaceflight experience changed them forever.
The crew spoke with NBC's Lester Holt Monday (Sept. 20) in their first post-flight interview since rocketing to space for three days aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon, orbiting Earth higher than the International Space Station.
Inspiration4 was SpaceX's first all-civilian mission. It was funded by billionaire Jared Isaacman (the crew commander), who sought to raise at least $200 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and to fly a crew celebrating diverse values. The mission has already exceeded that fundraising goal since landing Saturday (Sept. 18).
Inspiration4 is the third billionaire-funded mission to fly this summer, following Virgin Galactic's July 11 flight of founder Richard Branson and employees, and Blue Origin's July 20 flight of founder Jeff Bezos and three other passengers. Unlike these other missions, however, Inspiration4 had a focus on charity and it also lasted longer, for three days instead of a few minutes or hours. The Inspiration4 also trained for six months, instead of the reported 14 hours that Blue Origin crew members did, for example.
"I think if orbital space flight is just an exclusive domain of a couple of countries in the select few, I don't know how far we're going to get," Isaacman, 38, said in the interview, according to an NBC-provided transcript. He also praised "organizations like SpaceX" for attempting to reduce the cost of space access "to make it more accessible for others, so all of us can go out and journey among the stars."
Pilot Sian Proctor, a geoscientist and four-time analog astronaut selected in one of two Inspiration4 contests, was the first Black woman to serve in that role in space. While Proctor was also a finalist in the final round of the 2009 NASA astronaut selection, she said the Inspiration4 experience was the best way imaginable of reaching space.
"Talking to girls of color, women of color of my experience and even older women — who sometimes think the best part of your life has passed you by as you've gotten older — [shows] you still have lot to learn, a lot to explore. A lot to do," the 51-year-old Proctor told NBC.
Also on board was Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude who was successfully treated for cancer at the facility nearly 20 years ago. Arceneaux, 29, was the first person to fly with a prosthesis in space after being personally invited by Isaacman to join Inspiration4. She spoke of the impact of seeing Earth from a large domed window inside the spacecraft.
"That last view of the Earth from the cupola made me emotional because it was just so awe-inspiring, and I knew I'd be thinking about that for the rest of my life," she said.
When asked about the impact of her disability in inspiring the public, Arceneaux maintained she thinks of herself as an ordinary person. "I've had some difficulties in life, but I think everyone has in some way," she added. "I think everyone has had to overcome something and I just hope that people can look at my story and know that holding on to hope — that there will be better days — is so important."
Former Space Camp counselor Chris Sembroski, who is now with Lockheed Martin, said the experience of spaceflight changed the crew forever. "Each of us have been changed in a way that maybe we didn't expect," he said. "For me it was being able to see the Earth in a way that made me realize there is so much to see in person. I need to go and find those places and explore more."
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