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SpaceX to launch first fully civilian crew into orbit

Four private citizens are expected to launch into orbit on Wednesday in what will be the first space mission without any professional astronaut on board.

The all-civilian crew will travel to space aboard a rocket and capsule developed by SpaceX. The mission, dubbed Inspiration4, is just the latest milestone flight in what has been a busy year for private spaceflight companies, following the sprees into suborbital space of billionaire entrepreneurs Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos during the ‘summer.

Another billionaire, Jared Isaacman, is expected to lead the all-civilian historic mission. Isaacman, the 38-year-old founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, a payment processing company based in Pennsylvania, paid an unspecified amount for the three-day shipment in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule.

The spacecraft is expected to launch on top of a reusable Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Wednesday. The five-hour launch window opens at 8:02 p.m. EDT, and SpaceX plans to broadcast the event live. Forecasts currently project a 70 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for the evening launch.

Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman, and Hayley Arceneaux make up the crew for SpaceX Inspiration4.John Kraus / Inspiration4

The Crew Dragon capsule will spend three days circling the Earth before re-entering the atmosphere and splashing into the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida, according to SpaceX.

“From the start of this mission, I was very aware of how fortunate we are to be a part of this story that SpaceX is creating right now,” Isaacman said in a pre-flight briefing Tuesday, adding that the orbital outlet is designed to inspire people. .

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said that while early space tourism flights may be out of reach for everyone except the very wealthy, these pioneering missions will lay the groundwork for more regular and affordable travel in the world. space in the future.

If successful, the Inspiration4 expedition will represent a big step forward for space tourism. It will also be a boon for SpaceX, which has dominated the private spaceflight industry, including over rivals such as Bezos and his aerospace company Blue Origin.

Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a bone cancer survivor who now works as a medical assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital will join Isaacman on the trip. Arceneaux, who will act as the crew’s chief medical officer, will become the youngest American to fly in space.

Chris Sembroski, a 42-year-old US Air Force veteran and aerospace data engineer, and Sian Proctor, 51, a geoscientist and licensed pilot, will complete the crew.

The expedition is part of a charitable initiative to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In addition to donating $ 100 million to St. Jude, Isaacman donated the other three seats on Inspiration4 flight to his crew.

Procter, a former NASA astronaut candidate, won her ticket to space through an online competition hosted by Shift4 Payments. Sembroski won his seat in a charity campaign to raise funds for St. Jude.

Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman, and Hayley Arceneaux make up the crew for SpaceX Inspiration4.John Kraus / Inspiration4

The Inspiration4 mission will be similar to SpaceX’s routine flights to the International Space Station, except this time the capsule will not dock with the orbiting lab. Instead, the spacecraft will circle the planet 15 times a day at an altitude of nearly 360 miles, higher than the current orbits of the space station and the Hubble Space Telescope, according to SpaceX.

While flying is a big milestone for the space tourism industry, Inspiration4’s crew won’t just be there. During their three-day expedition, Isaacman, Proctor, Sembroski and Arceneaux will perform a series of medical experiments that could inform future spaceflight and have human health applications closer to home.

Crew members have been undergoing intensive space flight training since March, including in simulators and on zero-G flights that offer short periods of microgravity.

During a pre-flight briefing, Proctor spoke of his excitement and anticipation before the launch.

“Since announcing our last visit here, every day has been the happiest day of my life,” said Proctor, speaking from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “Every day it gets better and better.”

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