A billionaire, a medical assistant, a geoscience professor, and an engineer shot into space aboard a SpaceX capsule in the latest commercial space industry milestone – the first time an entire crew of non-professional astronauts has entered orbit .
The mission, known as Inspiration4, launched shortly after 5 p.m. Pacific time on Wednesday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. About 12 minutes after liftoff, the capsule separated from the second stage of the Falcon-9 rocket. The crew will be in orbit in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule approximately 557 miles above Earth for three days before splashing off the Florida coast.
The mission differs from previous manned launches into orbit. For one, it wasn’t the idea of a national government, but of billionaire tech entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, 38, who founded the payment processing company Shift4 Payments. Isaacman bought an entire SpaceX capsule for himself and three others at an undisclosed price and will serve as the mission’s commander.
“Few have come before and many will follow,” he said on a livestream of the launch after the capsule reached space. “The door is opening now, and it’s pretty incredible.”
With the launch, Isaacman wanted to raise $ 200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He pledged to donate $ 100 million to the hospital himself, and in February announced a sweepstakes where people interested in space travel can donate money and take part in a raffle to win one of the three remaining spots to win.
That place eventually went to Chris Sembroski, a Lockheed Martin engineer who didn’t win the competition but goes into space anyway after a friend who won the place referred him the prize, according to the New York Times. Sembroski is a mission specialist on board the flight.
Another seat on the capsule was given to Sian Proctor, a longtime professor of geosciences at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, who was a 2009 finalist for NASA’s astronaut program and is a trained pilot. Proctor won her seat in an online business competition run by Shift4Shop, an e-commerce platform owned by Isaacman’s company.
She is the capsule pilot and the first black man to pilot a spaceship. A minute before takeoff, she pointed to a camera in the capsule with her thumb up and followed it seconds later with heart; About nine minutes after takeoff, after mission control exclaimed that the capsule had made a “nominal” or normal orbital insertion, it gave another thumbs up.
The fourth seat was given to Hayley Arceneaux, a medical assistant in St. Jude and a childhood cancer survivor who was being treated in the hospital. Arceneaux is the flight medical officer. At 29, she is the youngest American woman to fly into space and the first to fly with a prosthetic body – part of her thighbone is made of metal.
The crew trained for months prior to their mission, rehearsing contingency plans for emergencies, practicing in a capsule simulator, and learning about the health research they plan to do during their flight.
The launch on Wednesday follows a high profile summer with billionaires launching into suborbital space.
In July, British billionaire Richard Branson and a crew of five other Virgin Galactic employees reached the edge of space aboard Branson’s company’s spacecraft – the first time the spacecraft had flown with a full crew aboard. Then, days later, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, flew into suborbital space with three others aboard the rocket and capsule system of his space company Blue Origin.
Both companies plan to offer paying tourists suborbital space travel.
Critics say the high cost of tickets – Virgin Galactic recently reopened sales with seat prices starting at $ 450,000 – will limit space travel to the rich and that the billionaires could have used their funds to support worthy causes near them.
In addition to Isaacman, Wednesday’s flight crew consisted of a group of ordinary people who are not very wealthy, which “might inspire a lot of people,” said Alan Ladwig, author of See You in Orbit. ? Our Dream of Spaceflight ”and a former NASA official.
But apart from competitions and sweepstakes, space travel will be limited in price for the average person, at least for the time being.
“There will be a handful of people who will leave, but given that everyone can fulfill their dream of flying – out of the millions of people who have that dream – I think we are a few years away from that . ” said Ladwig.