The first civilian crew on their way to orbit flew aboard a SpaceX rocket from the US state of Florida, which was a new era in the space tourism business.
The spacecraft with billionaire e-commerce manager Jared Isaacman and three less affluent private citizens he chose to join took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on Wednesday night (00:03 GMT Thursday).
A SpaceX webcast of the launch, Isaacman (38) and his crew members – Sian Proctor (51), Hayley Arceneaux (29) and Chris Sembroski (42) – were trapped in the cockpit under pressure from their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, called Resilience, with their helmet black-and-white flight suits.
The capsule roars in the air of Florida, on top of one of the company’s reusable two-stage Falcon 9 rockets, and has a special observation dome in place of its usual hatch.
The flight, the first unmanned astronaut crew mission to an orbit, is expected to take about three days from launch to the Atlantic splash, mission officials said.
– SpaceX (@SpaceX) 16 September 2021
Video clips posted on social media show the cheers erupting at the control tower as the Falcon 9 rocket separated from the Dragon capsule about 12 minutes after the flight.
It was the first flight of SpaceX owner Elon Musk’s new tourism venture, and a leap ahead of competitors who also offer rocket rides to customers willing to pay a small fortune for the excitement – and bragging rights – of space flights.
‘$ 200 million flight’
Isaacman paid an unknown amount to his fellow billionaire Musk. Time magazine set the ticket price for all four seats at $ 200 million.
The mission, called Inspiration4, is intended by Isaacman, especially to raise awareness and support for one of his favorite causes, St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading center for childhood cancer in Memphis, Tennessee.
Inspiration4 aims for an orbital altitude of 575 km (360 miles) above the earth, higher than the International Space Station or Hubble Space Telescope, and the farthest one has flown from Earth since the end of NASA’s Apollo lunar program in 1972, according to SpaceX.
At that altitude, the dragon will rotate around the globe every 90 minutes at a speed of 27,360 km / h, or about 22 times the speed of sound.
Competition between commercial spaces
Competitive companies Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin inaugurated their own private astronaut services this summer, with their respective founding members, billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, each joining forces for the ride.
The suborbital flights, which lasted a few minutes, were short hops compared to Inspiration4’s aerospace profile.
SpaceX is already the most established player in the emerging constellation of commercial rocket companies, with numerous cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA. Two of the Dragon capsules are already stuck there.
The Inspiration4 crew has no role to manage the spacecraft, which is operated by ground flight crews and on-board control systems, although two crew members are a licensed pilot.
Isaacman, who is assigned to fly commercial and military jets, assumed the role of ‘commander’ of the mission, while Proctor, a geoscientist and former NASA astronaut candidate, was named the ‘pilot’.
Also in the crew is the “chief medical officer” Arceneaux, an assistant to a cancer survivor of the St. Jude doctor’s survivor, and the mission ‘specialist’, Sembroski, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and data engineer.
The four crew members prepared thoroughly for five months, including altitude fitness, centrifuge (G-force), microgravity and simulator training, emergency drills, classroom work, and medical examinations.
Inspiration4 officials said the mission is more than a joy.
The team will conduct a series of medical experiments with ‘possible applications for human health on Earth and during future space flights’, the group said in media prepared for the media.
Biomedical data and biological samples, including ultrasound scans, will also be collected from the crew members before, during and after the flight.