SpaceX launched its first private flight into space on Wednesday night, carrying an all-amateur crew of four Americans onto a three-day flight around the Earth’s orbit in a move that marks one of the most ambitious leaps into space tourism— just two months after Virgin Atlantic and Blue Origin completed brief space skimming private flights.
The mission, dubbed Inspiration4—the first orbital trip featuring no professional astronauts—launched four Americans including two contest winners, a health care worker, and their billionaire sponsor, Jared Isaacman, from the Kennedy Space Center.
Aside from the 38-year-old Isaacman, the flight features 29-year-old medical professional and bone cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux, 42-year-old data engineer Chris Sembroski and 51-year-old community college educator Dr. Sian Proctor.
The passengers are flying aboard SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and they will be looking to spend three days orbiting the earth several times at an altitude of up to 360 miles.
The Dragon capsule was launched using SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket and after the launch, the first-stage booster used for the mission also successfully landed on an ocean platform.
29-year-old Arceneaux has become the youngest American to travel to space and she is also the first space traveler with a prosthesis—a titanium rod in her left leg—the Associated Press reported.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson congratulated the mission’s operators, tweeting: “Low-Earth orbit is now more accessible for more people to experience the wonders of space. We look forward to the future – one where NASA is one of many customers in the commercial space market. Onward and upward!” In 1986, Nelson took a flight aboard Space Shuttle Columbia as a payload specialist while serving as a sitting member of U.S. House of Representatives from the state of Florida.
Isaacman’s payments processing company, Shift4 Payments, is funding the entire mission but the billionaire and the company have refused to disclose the total cost of the mission. The 38-year-old is the third billionaire to fly into space on board a private flight in the past two months. In July, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin undertook brief flights to the edge of space. Unlike them, however, the SpaceX capsule will orbit the earth at an altitude that is around 100 miles above the International Space Station and will last for three full days. Although the flight is completely automated, the four-member crew spent six months training for the flight to tackle any possible emergencies. The training included flights aboard fighter jets, simulator training, and a trek up Mount Rainier.
The Inspiration4 mission will also serve as a fundraiser for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee—where Arceneaux is employed. Isaacman has pledged to donate $100 million of his own fortune to the hospital and he is seeking to raise another $100 million through donations.