SpaceX’s first private flight into orbit Wednesday night was joined by two contest winners: a doctor and their wealthy sponsor. This is the most ambitious space tourism leap yet.
This was the first spacecraft to circle Earth without professional astronauts.
SpaceX’s billionaire leader Jared Isaacman urged SpaceX to “Punch It!” moments before liftoff.
Two men and two women from the Dragon capsule will spend three days traveling around the planet in a unique orbit, 100 miles (160 km) higher than that of the International Space Station. They’ll then splash down off the Florida coast.
Elon Musk, SpaceX founder, has entered the contest for space tourism dollars.
After the short space-skimming flights of Richard Branson from Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos from Blue Origin in July, Isaacman is now the third billionaire to launch this year. Isaacman, 38, made his fortune in a payment-processing business he founded when he was just a teenager.
Hayley Arceneaux (29), a child bone cancer survivor, will be joining Isaacman on the Inspiration4 trip. She works as a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee. Isaacman has donated $100 million from his pocket to the hospital. He is still looking for $100 million donations.
Arceneaux was the youngest American astronaut and the first to be fitted with a prosthesis (a titanium rod in her left limb), in space.
Sweepstakes winners Chris Sembroski (42), a data engineer from Everett in Washington, and SianProctor (51), a Tempe community college educator.
NASA, once opposed to space tourism is now a supporter. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson tweeted, “Low Earth orbit is now more accessible to more people to experience space wonders,” he was a congressman who rode on a spaceship in the 1960s.
The Kennedy Space Center pad was used for the company’s previous three astronaut flights for NASA. This Falcon rocket was then relaunched. The Dragon capsule was aiming for 357 miles (575 km) above the Hubble Space Telescope.
SpaceX employees cheered loudly at each flight milestone at their headquarters in Hawthorne (California), including when the first-stage booster was able to land upright on an ocean platform. French astronaut Thomas Pesquet tweeted that he was rooting from the space station: “Regardless of whether you’re a professional, when you strap to a rocket launch into space, you have something in common. We wish you all the best from space.
Isaacman pointed out that very few people have ever been to space, fewer than 600 in 60 years. He added that many more are on the horizon. It’s quite amazing that the door is opening now.
Their capsule was already in orbit: It was used by SpaceX for NASA’s second astronaut flight. Only one significant difference is that the capsule now has a large dome window at its top, instead of the space station docking mechanism.
Isaacman, a highly skilled pilot, convinced SpaceX to launch the fully-automated Dragon capsule higher than ever before. SpaceX was initially reluctant to accept the higher radiation exposure, but they agreed after a safety review.
Isaacman said to reporters that he wished he had pushed them harder on the day of the flight. “If we want to go back to the moon and then go to Mars, we have to step out of our comfort zones and go the next step.”
Isaacman, whose Shift4 Payments business is located in Allentown, Pennsylvania is paying the entire bill for the flight. He won’t reveal how many million he spent. Others agree with him that these high prices will eventually reduce the cost.
Richard Garriott, President of Explorers Club, said that today’s astronaut son paid more than a decade ago to the Russians to pay for a trip to space. “But we cannot get the price down or expand access to the space station, as with other industries.
Although the capsule is fully automated, the Dragon riders spent six months training to be able to handle any emergency. The training involved fighter jet and centrifuge flights, launch and landing practice in SpaceX’s capsule simulator, and a strenuous trek up Mount Rainier in Washington.
The four of them met Musk just four hours before liftoff. They then emerged from SpaceX’s enormous rocket hangar waving and kissing their family members and employees before being driven off to change into their white flight suits. They took pictures at the launch pad and bumped into each other with their gloved fists before taking the elevator up. Proctor danced her way to the hatch.
The public will not be able listen to or see the events unfold live, unlike NASA missions. Arceneaux hopes that he can connect with St. Jude patients but it won’t be broadcast live.
SpaceX’s private next trip will see a former NASA astronaut accompanying three wealthy businessmen to space station for a week. In the next few months, the Russians will launch a Japanese actress, a film director, and tycoon to space station.
Mason Peck from Cornell University, an engineering professor, said that NASA astronauts would one day be the exception to the rule. He was the chief technologist at NASA nearly a decade back. “But they’ll probably continue to be trailblazers that the rest of us can follow.”