A SpaceX rocket soared into orbit Wednesday evening, carrying four people — none of whom are professional astronauts — and kicking off the first-ever mission to Earth’s orbit crewed entirely by tourists.
This mission, dubbed Inspiration4, is the first orbital mission in the history of spaceflight to be staffed entirely by tourists or otherwise non-astronauts.
The team of amateurs — which include a billionaire who self-funded the mission, a cancer survivor, a community college teacher and a Lockheed Martin employee — strapped into their 13-foot-wide SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule Wednesday afternoon before their SpaceX rocket roared to life and blasted the capsule into orbit. The crew will remain aboard their capsule for three days as it flies through orbit before returning for a splashdown landing off the coast of Florida on Saturday.
The three-day journey will see the quartet free-flying through Earth’s orbit, whipping around the planet once every 90 minutes while the passengers float, buoyed by microgravity, and take in panoramic views of our home planet. To cap off the journey, their spacecraft will dive back into the atmosphere for a fiery re-entry and splash down off the coast of Florida. And yes, for all three days in space, the passengers will all have to share a special zero-gravity-friendly toilet located near the top of the capsule. No showering will be available, and crew will all have to sleep in the same reclining seats they will ride in during launch.
This is only the third crewed launch from US soil in the past decade.
This mission, however, has been billed as the beginning of a new era of space travel in which average people, rather than government-selected astronauts and the occasional deep-pocketed adventurer, carry the mantle of space exploration.
But to be clear, we are still a long way from that reality, and this trip is still far from “average.” It’s a custom, one-off mission financed by a billionaire founder of a payment processing company, and though pricing details have not been made public, it likely cost upward of $200 million. (According to one government report, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule costs roughly $55 million per seat.)
Here’s a rundown of what’s happening and why it matters.
The passengers: A billionaire, a cancer survivor, a geologist and a raffle winner
- Jared Isaacman, 38, the billionaire founder of payment processing company Shift4, who is also personally financing this entire mission
- Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old cancer survivor who now works as a physician assistant at St. Jude, the hospital where she was treated, in Memphis, Tennessee. She’ll be the first person with a prosthetic body part to go to space, and she’ll serve as the flight’s chief medical officer. St. Jude selected Arceneaux for this mission as Isaacman’s request, according to a Netflix documentary, and, at the time, she said she was so unfamiliar with space travel that she asked if she would be traveling to the moon, unaware that humans have not set foot on the moon in 50 years.
- Sian Proctor, 51, a geologist and educator who was selected for a seat on this mission through a post on social media in which she highlights her space-related artwork and entrepreneurial spirit. She’ll be only the fourth Black woman from the US to travel to orbit.
- Chris Sembroski, a 42-year-old Seattle-based Lockheed Martin employee and former camp counselor at Alabama’s famed Space Camp. He won his seat through a raffle he entered by donating to St. Jude Children’s Hospital, though he wasn’t the official winner. His friend snagged the seat and, after deciding not to go, transferred it to him.
Isaacman — who will become the third billionaire to self-fund a trip space in the past three months and the first to buy a trip to orbit on a SpaceX capsule — is billing this mission as one that he hopes will inspire would-be space adventureres, hence the missions’s name, Inspiration4. He’s also using it as the centerpiece for a $200 million fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, $100 million of which he donated personally and the rest he is hoping to raise through online donations and an auction set to begin Thursday. Items will include a ukulele that Sembroski will play in space and 66 pounds of beer hops.