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Meet the Aviators that Flew to Space with Inspiration4

SpaceX's Inspiration4 mission touched down in the Atlantic on Saturday, bringing four citizen astronauts safely back to Earth after a three-day flight. The first all-civilian crew was comprised of a tech billionaire, geoscientist, childhood cancer survivor, and an Air Force veteran now working as an aerospace data engineer. For the newly crowned citizen astronauts, getting a seat on the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule was a stroke of luck. Chris Sembroski purchased tickets for an online sweepstakes that raised around $113 million for the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. The raffle winner would get to stake claim on a seat on the Crew Dragon capsule, but that winner was not Sembroski. It was a friend from his college days at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University that was chosen, according to The New York Times. The friend opted not to go to space, instead giving the ticket to Sembroski, a known space fan. "It was this moment of, ‘Oh, I'm going to space? You picked me?' I mean, it was a moment of shock," Sembroski noted at a news briefing in March at SpaceX's Florida facility. The 42-year-old has always had an interest in the aerospace industry, even working as a Space Camp counselor and simulating space shuttle missions. He went on to maintain ballistic missiles in the U.S. Air Force. After serving in Iraq, he left active duty in 2007. Sembroski rekindled his passion for aerospace, earning a degree in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle.Crew of @Inspiration4x - first all-civilian human spaceflight to orbit - returns to Earth pic.twitter.com/pnjkDjnkAw— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 18, 2021 Other members of the Inspiration4 crew with a connection to aerospace include Sian Proctor, a geoscientist, and tech-billionaire Jared Isaacman, both licensed pilots. Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, paid an unspecified amount for the three-day ride on the Crew Dragon capsule, donating the three other seats to his fellow crew members.But Isaacman is more than a typical suit and tie CEO, he's a world-record breaking pilot. He began taking flying lessons at 21, and set a world record for circumnavigating the globe in a Cessna Citation CJ2 just 5 years later.Like Sembroski, he studied Professional Aeronautics at Embry-Riddle. But his aviation talents extended even further as Isaacman appeared in many airshows with the Black Diamond Jet Team. He later co-founded Draken International, an Armed Forces pilot training company that operates one of the world's largest fleets of privately owned fighter jets.Sian Proctor's aerospace experience is equally as thrilling. On top of being a geology professor, STEM educator, and geoscientist, she is also a major in the Civil Air Patrol where she serves as an aerospace education officer for its Arizona Wing. Proctor explained to the Associated Press what her selection meant, "It was like when Harry Potter found out he was a wizard, a little bit of shock and awe." In 2009, Proctor was one of 47 NASA Astronaut finalists, but not one of the nine candidates selected for the Astronaut Group. Little did she know that despite this rejection, she would later become the first African American woman to pilot a spacecraft. After launch, the crew capsule reached a cruising orbital altitude of just over 363 miles - higher than the International Space Station or the Hubble Space Telescope. In fact, this is the farthest any human has flown from Earth since NASA's Apollo moon program ended in 1972. Timiebi Aganaba, a professor of space law at Arizona State University, said in an NPR interview about the SpaceX mission, "This is not going to be for everyone. But it's going to be for more people than the 600 people that have been to space. That's for sure." While high-profile missions for Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos both took place this past summer, the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission is meant to push the boundaries of who can go to space. SpaceX is a private company founded by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Inc. The company supplied, launched, and landed the spacecraft as the debut flight for its new space tourism business.
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