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SpaceX’s Inspiration4 launch boosts population of space to record-breaking 14 people

Half of them will be back on Earth by this weekend, though.

The four civilian astronauts of SpaceX's Inspiration4 mission sit inside their Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft for a dress rehearsal of their planned launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A on Sept. 15, 2021.
The four civilian astronauts of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission sit inside their Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft for a dress rehearsal of their planned launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A.

Earth orbit has never been so crowded.

The launch of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission last night (Sept. 15) brought the population of the final frontier to 14, one more than the previous high.

Those 14 folks are living aboard three different spacecraft. The Inspiration4 crew — Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski — are zooming around Earth in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. 

Meanwhile, the International Space Station currently hosts seven people: NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur and Mark Vande Hei; Russian cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Oleg Novitskiy; Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide; and the European Space Agency’s Thomas Pesquet. And Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo are living aboard Tianhe, the core module for China’s planned Tiangong space station.

“All the best to the crew of Inspiration 4!” Vande Hei wrote on Twitter before SpaceX’s launch. “Private astronaut missions are part of the plan to help NASA meet its future needs. Those missions enable a strong market in low-Earth orbit, a market in which NASA will be one of many customers. Go, Inspiration! Go!”

The spaceflyer ranks will thin out soon, however. Inspiration4 will come back down to Earth on Saturday (Sept. 18), and the Shenzhou 12 mission of Nie, Liu and Tang is rumored to be ending early Friday morning (Sept. 17). (The murkiness around Shenzhou 12 is the norm, because China doesn’t publicize many details of its human spaceflight plans in advance.)

The previous record of 13 simultaneous spaceflyers has been set several times. In March 1995, for example, seven astronauts orbited Earth aboard NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour while six folks did the same on Russia’s Mir space station. And in March 2009, the International Space Station briefly hosted 13 crewmembers all by itself. 

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