SpaceX Inspiration4 Launches Four People into Orbit on Company’s First-ever Tourism Mission

The launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida was dramatically illuminated by floodlights against the night sky, and when the nine SpaceX rocket engines ignited just after 8 p.m. ET, they flooded the surrounding wetlands. of a flame of light as it soared into the upper atmosphere and made a dramatic and ghostly light show above. After reaching orbital speeds – over 17,000 miles per hour – the capsule carrying the four passengers detached from the rocket and began to maneuver into its intended orbit.

The team of amateurs – which includes a billionaire who self-funded the mission, a cancer survivor, a community college teacher and a Lockheed Martin employee – strapped into their 13-foot SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. wide Wednesday afternoon before their SpaceX rocket roared for life and detonated the capsule in orbit. The crew will remain aboard their capsule for three days as it flies over orbit before returning on Saturday for a landing off the coast of Florida.

For the next three days, passengers will float around the capsule as it circles the planet once every 90 minutes, traveling at over 17,500 miles per hour, while passengers float and admire panoramic views of the Earth. To top off the trip, their spaceship will dive back into the atmosphere for a fiery re-entry and splash off the coast of Florida.

Splashdown is currently scheduled for Saturday, but that could change if weather or other issues cause an earlier or later return. The capsule contains enough food and supplies to about a week.

This is only the third crewed launch from U.S. soil in the past decade.

The crew includes 38-year-old billionaire Jared Isaacman, who personally funded the trip; Hayley Arceneux, 29, childhood cancer survivor and current medical assistant at St. Jude; Sian Procotor, 51, geologist and community college teacher with a doctorate; and Chris Sembroski, a 42-year-old Lockheed Martin employee and longtime space fan who claimed his seat through an online raffle.

The four passengers will spend the entire mission aboard the SpaceX capsule, a 13-foot-wide gumball-shaped spacecraft that detaches from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket after reaching orbital speeds and was originally built for carry NASA astronauts.

And yes, during the three days in space, passengers will all have to share a special non-gravity toilet located near the top of the capsule. No showers will be available and the crew will all have to sleep in the same reclining seats they will use during launch.

SpaceX is hoping this will be the first of many similar tourist missions, paving the way for a future where it’s as common to take a space trip as it is to jump on a plane. And the Crew Dragon capsule is SpaceX’s first stop on the way. Although it was designed and built under a contract with NASA and intended to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station, SpaceX still owns and operates the vehicle and is licensed to sell seats or missions. whole to whom the companies wish it. And with that, SpaceX and its space tourism customers can design the entire mission – from selecting the flight path and training regiment to choosing which foods passengers will munch on in orbit.

At a press briefing on Tuesday night, Sembroski, the 42-year-old who obtained his ticket via a raffle, told reporters joining the Inspriation4 mission felt like “we write the rules, we break them. a few that NASA used to demand … We can sort of do it our way. “

This is far from the first time that civilians have traveled in space. Although NASA has been opposed to hiring non-astronauts on routine missions after the death of Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire teacher who was killed in the Challenger disaster in 1986, a cohort of wealthy amateurs thrill ride paid its own way to the International Space Station in the 2000s through a company called Space Adventures. American investment management billionaire Dennis Tito became the first to self-fund a trip in 2001 with his eight-day stay on the International Space Station, and six more have come after him. They all booked rides alongside professional astronauts aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

This mission, however, has been touted as the start of a new era of space travel in which average people, rather than government-selected astronauts and the occasional adventurer with deep pockets, wear the mantle of the space exploration.

But to be clear, we are still far from that reality, and this trip is still far from “average”. This is a one-time, personalized mission funded by a billionaire founder of a payment processing company, and while pricing details have not been made public, it likely cost over $ 200 million. . (According to a government report, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule costs around $ 55 million per seat.)
Jared Isaacman during deployment to Launch Complex 39A on September 11, 2021.
Isaacman – who will become the third billionaire to self-fund space travel in the past three months and the first to purchase orbit travel on a SpaceX capsule – presents the mission as one that he hopes will inspire future space adventurers. Hence the name of the mission, Inspiration4. He’s also using it as the centerpiece of a $ 200 million fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, of which $ 100 million he personally donated and the rest he hopes to raise through online donations and at an auction scheduled to start Thursday. Items will include a ukulele that Sembroski will play in space and 66 pounds of beer hops.

So far, the fundraiser has brought in $ 31 million of its goal of $ 100 million.

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Christa McAuliffe’s home state.

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