SpaceX sent four private citizens into space on Wednesday, launching the first crew mission To orbit the ship without any professional astronauts. Named the Inspiration 4, the project marks the latest private venture into space, as companies such as Elon Muskin SpaceX are competing to normalize space travel, not just for government astronauts but also for tourists.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket was launched in time from the company’s 39A launchpad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Inside the capsule is billionaire businessman Jared Isaacman, a trained pilot and founder of payment-processing company Shift 4 Payments and three others who have taken money to ride with him: Haley Arsenox, a 29-year-old medical assistant and cancer survivor; Christopher Cemproski, Lockheed Martin Data Engineer; And Cian Proctor, a geologist and former NASA astronaut candidate.
The crew was concentrated inside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Expansion The capsule on top of the rocket, reusing the spacecraft that sent four government astronauts to the International Space Station about a year ago. But for the Inspiration 4, the capsule does not go to the space station. Ready to spend about three days orbiting Earth about 360 miles away – the longest human spaceflight since the last NASA spacecraft to repair the Hubble telescope in 2009.
About nine minutes later, the first stage booster of the Falcon 9 returned to Earth to land on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean. Moments later, the Crew Dragon capsule split from the second stage of the rocket as it exited the Earth’s atmosphere, sending the Inspiration 4 crew further into orbit. The capsule will gradually elevate its orbit over the next hour and a half via relentless thrust firing.
“Dragon Capsule and crew are nominally in orbit,” said Andy Tron, a SpaceX engineer and livestream presenter. With a live camera from inside the capsule, the crew waved and gave a double thumbs up.
The mission serves as a multi-million dollar fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, a non-profit research center that provides free care for children with cancer. Isaacman donated $ 100 million to the hospital and aims to raise another $ 100 million through the Inspiration 4 mission. That portion of the fundraiser has so far raised about $ 30.8 million. Isaacman, who kept most of the work in the bank, would not say how much he paid for each crew dragon seat, but they typically cost about $ 55 million a pop, according to a government watchdog.
The Inspiration 4’s crew dragon capsule is designed for a more travel experience than NASA astronauts had on the ISS mission. A few months before the trip, SpaceX installed a large glass dome where the capsule station would normally have a docking door, and the Inspiration 4 would see 360 degrees of space when in orbit for passengers. Although the glass dome has not been tested in space, SpaceX’s team managing director Benji Reid said it was conducted through rigorous testing and qualification procedures before verifying that it was safe for aircraft.
The crew has planned some activities while staying in orbit – Sembrowski is expected to play Ukulele, produced by Martin Guitar, which is one of several sponsorships riding the mission. Proctor brought poetry and some personal art. The entire team also participates in the study of the effects of microgravity on the human body. Researchers at SpaceX, Baylor Medical College’s Translation Research Institute for Health (Trish) and Weil Cornell Medicine plan to collect biological samples from passengers before the voyage and collect biomedical data during the voyage.
Where and when the capsule reactivates the Earth’s atmosphere after its three-day voyage depends on the weather conditions around the Florida coast. The capsule can spend up to a week in orbit if needed, Isaacman said.
Update 8:45 PM ET: Updated with photos and additional info from SpaceX’s live broadcast.
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