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Inspiration4 benefactor-commander under quarantine with COVID-19-positive family

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FILE PHOTO: Inspiration 4 civilian crew before lauch into orbit on SpaceX Falcone 9 rocket at Kennedy Space Center

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) - Days after completing his historic ride into space as part of the first all-civilian crew to reach Earth orbit, billionaire e-commerce mogul and mission commander Jared Isaacman is back at home, and unexpectedly back in quarantine.

"I came back to Earth with a house full of COVID," Isaacman, 38, said in an interview from his home in Easton, Pennsylvania, on Thursday, five days after he and his Inspiration4 crewmates safely splashed down in the Atlantic.

Isaacman said his wife, their two daughters, aged 5 and 7, and his in-laws all came down with COVID-19 upon their return from Florida, where the family stayed in the days immediately before, during and after the spaceflight and were apparently exposed to the virus.

So far, Isaacman said, he has yet to test positive.

Florida has experienced some of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the nation during a recent surge of cases driven by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

For Isaacman the latest in-home lockdown comes as an unanticipated redux.

"We were all in quarantine, my wife and my kids and myself, prior to launch as part of just normal launch protocols, and while in orbit, quarantine breaks at that point. And, you know, I guess you're around a lot of people during the launch and re-entry events and it looks like we got a little COVID going through the household right now."

Isaacman said none of his family has fallen seriously ill, though they do have symptoms.

He said all the adults in his household were fully vaccinated before their trip to Cape Canaveral, where the SpaceX rocketship he flew aboard blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center. The family also spent time in Orlando before heading home earlier this week.

Isaacman, founder and chief executive of financial transaction service Shift4 Payments, said he was still "processing" his spaceflight experience. But he recalled that seeing the moonrise over Earth from orbit was a personal highlight of the three-day expedition.

"It made me just think ... we have to keep turning science-fiction into reality," he said. "We've got to go back to the space station and back to the moon and Mars and beyond, because there is a lot of space out there and we know so little about it."

Isaacman, a jet pilot with thousands of hours of flight time under his belt, conceived of the mission primarily to raise awareness and donations for St. Jude Children's Research Center, a leading cancer institute in Tennessee.

In addition to paying SpaceX for all four seats aboard the Crew Dragon - Isaacman declined to disclose the sum but insisted it was far less than the $200 million reported by Time magazine - he contributed $100 million of his own money to St. Jude.

He said a $50 million pledge from SpaceX founder and fellow billionaire Elon Musk just after splashdown put the charity drive over its $200 million target and was "the single most emotional point for me."

Isaacman said the drive was on track to ultimately raise $250 million for the hospital, where crewmate Hayley Arcenenaux, 29, a childhood bone cancer survivor, was once a patient and now works as a physician assistant.

Rounding out the crew were geoscientist and former NASA astronaut candidate Sian Proctor, 51, and aerospace data engineer and Air Force veteran Chris Sembroski, 42.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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