SpaceX will launch four space tourists for a three-day trip to space. Here’s all you need to know

This mission, called Inspiration4, is the first orbital mission in the history of spaceflight to be entirely made up of tourists or non-astronauts.

The launch is scheduled for Wednesday between 8:02 p.m. and 1:02 a.m. ET from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County, Fla., Although forecasters are closely monitoring storms that could impact the mission.

The three-day trip will see the quartet fly freely through Earth’s orbit, circling the planet once every 90 minutes as passengers float, supported by microgravity, and take in panoramic views of our home planet. To top off the trip, their spaceship will dive back into the atmosphere for a fiery re-entry and splash off the coast of Florida. And yes, during the three days in space, passengers will all have to share a special non-gravity toilet located near the top of the capsule. No showers will be available and the crew will all have to sleep in the same reclining seats they will use during launch.

This is far from the first time that civilians have traveled in space. Although NASA has been opposed to hiring non-astronauts on routine missions after the death of Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire teacher who was killed in the Challenger disaster in 1986, a cohort of wealthy amateurs thrill ride paid its own way to the International Space Station in the 2000s through a company called Space Adventures. American investment management billionaire Dennis Tito became the first to self-fund a trip in 2001 with his eight-day stay on the International Space Station, and six more have come after him. They all booked rides alongside professional astronauts on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

This mission, however, has been touted as the start of a new era of space travel in which average people, rather than government-selected astronauts and the occasional adventurer with deep pockets, wear the mantle of the space exploration.

But to be clear, we are still far from that reality, and this trip is still far from “average”. This is a one-time, personalized mission funded by a billionaire founder of a payment processing company, and while pricing details have not been made public, it likely cost over $ 200 million. . (According to a government report, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule costs around $ 55 million per seat.)

Here’s a rundown of what’s going on and why it’s important.

The passengers: billionaire, cancer survivor, geologist and raffle winner

  • Jared Isaacman, 38, the billionaire founder of payment processing company Shift4, who is also personally funding the entire mission
  • Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old cancer survivor who now works as a medical assistant at St. Jude, the hospital where she was treated, in Memphis, Tennessee. She will be the first person with a prosthetic body part to go into space, and she will serve as the flight’s chief medical officer. St. Jude chose Arceneaux for this mission at Isaacman’s request, according to a Netflix documentary, and, at the time, she said she was so unfamiliar with space travel as she requested. if she would go to the moon, unaware that humans had not set foot on the moon in 50 years.
  • Sian Proctor, 51, a geologist and educator who was selected for a seat in this mission through a Publish on social networks in which she highlights her works of art related to space and her entrepreneurial spirit. She will only be the fourth black woman from the United States to travel to orbit.
  • Chris Sembroski, a 42-year-old Seattle-based Lockheed Martin employee and former camp counselor at the notorious Alabama Space Camp. He won his seat through a raffle in which he entered by donating to St. Jude Children’s Hospital, although he was not the official winner. Her friend hung up the seat and, after deciding not to go, transferred it to her.
Isaacman – who will become the third billionaire to self-fund space travel in the past three months and the first to purchase orbit travel on a SpaceX capsule – presents the mission as one that he hopes will inspire the potential adventureres space, hence the name of the mission, Inspiration4. He’s also using it as the centerpiece of a $ 200 million fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, of which he personally donated $ 100 million and the rest he hopes to raise through online donations and an upcoming auction.

So far, a fundraiser has brought in $ 30 million of its goal of $ 100 million.

How did it all happen?

Inspiration4 is entirely the brain child of Jared Isaacman and SpaceX.

Isaacman began flying single-engine planes for recreational purposes in the mid-2000s and developed an insatiable thirst to go higher and faster, eventually switching to twin-engine planes, then jets, and then quality planes. military that can exceed the speed of sound.

Jared Isaacman visits SpaceX and meets Elon Musk before announcing the mission in February 2021.

Each of Isaacman’s travel companions was selected in a different way: he asked St. Jude to select a cancer survivor turned health care provider, and the organization chose Arceneaux. Proctor won an online competition specifically for users of Shift4, the payment platform operated by Isaacman. And Sembroski was given his seat by someone who won a raffle for those who donated to St. Jude. (Sembroski also entered the raffle but was not the initial winner.)

Isaacman told CNN Business he sat down with SpaceX to hash the flight profile. He specifically wanted the Crew Dragon to orbit higher than the International Space Station, which is why the spacecraft will orbit about 350 miles above Earth – about 100 miles above where the space station orbit.

Is it risky?

Every time a spacecraft leaves Earth, there are risks, and there are no perfect measurements to predict them.

But NASA estimates that Crew Dragon has a 1 in 270 chance of catastrophic failure, based on a metric used by the space agency. For comparison, NASA’s Space Shuttle missions in the 1980s to early 2000s ultimately recorded a failure rate of about 1 in 68 missions.

Because of the inherent risks of detonating a spacecraft at over 17,500 miles per hour – the speed that allows an object to enter Earth’s orbit – Inspiration4 is more dangerous than the brief top-down suborbital jaunts performed. by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson.

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Along with the many dangers of the launch itself – in which rockets essentially use controlled explosions more powerful than most war bombs to achieve sufficient speed to escape gravity – there’s also the reentry process. Upon returning from orbit, the Crew Dragon’s exterior temperatures can reach up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, and astronauts can feel a 4.5 G force pushing them into their seats, while thickening around the capsule. .

During a Netflix documentary on the Inspiration4 mission, Musk described a re-entering capsule as “like an incoming blazing meteor.”

“And so it’s hard not to vaporize,” he added.

After that, the Crew Dragon must then deploy parachutes to slow their descent and make a safe landing in the ocean before the rescue ships can bring the four passengers back to dry land.

Despite the risks, a former NASA chief and professional safety officials have said the Crew Dragon is possibly the safest crewed vehicle ever flown.

The vehicle: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon

The four passengers will pass all missions aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, a 13-foot-wide gumball-shaped spacecraft that detaches from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket after reaching orbital speeds.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule was developed by Elon Musk’s rocket company for the specific purpose of transporting NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station, which it first did in May 2020.
From left to right: Chris Sembroski, Hayley Arceneaux, Dr Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman.

Since then, SpaceX has launched two additional Crew Dragon missions for NASA.

SpaceX, however, is allowed to sell seats – or entire missions – to whomever the company chooses. Although NASA paid for a large portion of the development of the Crew Dragon, under the terms of the agreement between the federal agency and the company, SpaceX still technically owns and operates the vehicle and can use it for any commercial purpose it needs. ‘He wishes.

Crew Dragon’s missions in the near future also include a mix of NASA-ordered flights to the ISS and space tourism missions.

For this mission, the Crew Dragon will be equipped with a giant glass dome at the tip of the spacecraft specifically so that the crew can soak up a panoramic view of the cosmos.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated where Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who died in the Challenger disaster, came from. She was from New Hampshire.


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