A technology billionaire and three other non-professional astronauts took off today and embarked on the first non-governmental, charitable orbital mission.
Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, paid what is believed to be more than $100 million for the three-day SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule flight. With the help of SpaceX, he organized the Inspiration4 mission as a benefit of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, with the goal of raising 200 million US dollars-and promised to raise his first 100 million US dollars.
At 8:02 pm Eastern time (5:02 pm Pacific time), SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “Hit it, SpaceX!” Isaacman told the Mission Control Center.
In the webcast, each stage of the ascent aroused enthusiastic cheers from hundreds of SpaceX employees gathered at the headquarters of the California company. Nearly 500,000 viewers watched streaming media reports during the peak period.
A few minutes after lift-off, the rocket’s first stage booster flew itself back to the sea landing site on an unmanned ship, while the second stage pushed the manned dragon spacecraft into orbit.
After the Dragon reached orbit, Isaacman pointed out that he and his “all civilian” crew entered space through a door that relatively few humans pass through. The 38-year-old billionaire and amateur jet pilot said: “The door is now opening, which is incredible.”
Although the flight started from assets owned by NASA, NASA rarely participated in this mission.
This Crew Dragon spacecraft will not travel to the International Space Station like all other manned flights of SpaceX, but will fly along an elliptical orbit as high as 357 miles (575 kilometers). This is higher than the space station and higher than the Hubble Space Telescope. In fact, Inspiration4 will be the highest manned mission since the last Hubble service mission of the space shuttle fleet, which was carried out in 2009 when the space telescope was at a higher altitude.
The high-altitude itinerary is in line with SpaceX’s desire to transcend Earth’s orbit-Inspiration4 mission director Todd Eriksson said that this desire is consistent with Isaacman’s views. “We want to start taking the first step towards becoming an interplanetary species, which means we have to start working above low Earth orbit,” he told GeekWire in a pre-launch interview.
During this trip, SpaceX developed a cupola that replaces the docking port of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and will provide a 360-degree view of the starry sky below or above the earth.
Today’s launch marks the culmination of the process that began with the Super Bowl advertisement and continues to train Isaacman and his three crew for several months, including:
- Hayley Alkno, A childhood cancer survivor who became St. Jude’s physician assistant. Hospital officials chose Arceneaux to fly at the invitation of Isaacman. At the age of 29, she is the youngest human being in orbit and the youngest American to enter space. (Dutch student Oliver Daemen maintained the world record for the youngest in space with his suborbital flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft in July.)
- Xi’an Proctor, 51, Arizona educator and artist, he supported Isaacman as the pilot of Crew Dragon. This made her the first black pilot to perform an orbital space mission. Proctor was selected through an online competition among users of the Shift4 online payment system.
- Chris SembroskyA 42-year-old Air Force veteran lives in Everett, Washington, and works as a data engineer at Lockheed Martin. Sembroski has been a space enthusiast since he was a child, and participated in the charity draw and won the fourth place. His vote was not selected, but the winner turned out to be his college classmate. That buddy decided not to go, but chose Sembroski to fly.
Sembroski will be responsible for managing the payload on the manned dragon spacecraft-including medical experiments, space objects that will be auctioned to benefit St. Jude, and the ukulele he will play in space.
During the three days they plan to spend on orbit, the Inspiration4 group of four will monitor their radiation exposure, blood sugar levels and other health indicators. They will carry out various educational and outreach activities, including Proctor’s classroom courses and Arceneaux’s contacts with cancer patients.
But they will also have enough time to look at the earth through their customized cupola.
“Of course, I will look down at my home in western Washington,” Sembroski said before taking off. “I’m also looking for things I can’t see-this will be the lines on the map or the walls that seem to separate us all.”