SpaceX successfully launched into orbit the first-ever flight crewed entirely by civilians, marking a giant leap for the aerospace company hoping to make space travel a more regular part of the lives of the exceptionally rich. For the next three days, the tourists will orbit 360 miles above the Earth in a 13-foot-wide capsule called Crew Dragon.
The mission, known as Inspiration4, was launched Wednesday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, with billionaire Jared Isaacman onboard with a crew featuring a physician assistant and childhood cancer survivor; a geologist; and a Lockheed Martin employee who won his seat through a raffle. Isaacman, the founder of a payment-processing firm, is paying for the entire trip and intends to use the exposure to fundraise for St. Jude’s Research Hospital.
The technical aspects of the flight will be controlled by SpaceX mission control in Hawthorne, California, and the crew’s main objective will be to monitor the onboard systems. However, if something were to go wrong, Isaacman and another crew member have been trained to fly the spacecraft. The crew intends to perform a series of medical procedures, including ultrasound scans, while in orbit.
While the recent flights involving Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos featured all-civilian crews, those billionaires only made it to the upper limits of the atmosphere and stayed there for a matter of minutes. According to SpaceX, which is owned by fellow space-curious billionaire Elon Musk, the 360-mile orbital altitude of Inspiration4 is higher than the International Space Station and the Hubble telescope, and it will be the highest any human has gone since the end of the Apollo moon program in 1972. The splashdown on Saturday is scheduled to be in the Atlantic.