CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX launched four ordinary citizens into orbit Wednesday night without any professional astronauts along for the ride, an unprecedented feat in the history of spaceflight.
The five-hour launch window for Inspiration4 opened at 8:02 p.m. ET for launch from Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center.
Sitting atop the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket are four private citizens in a specially modified Crew Dragon capsule awaiting to start three days of orbiting the Earth, the first time an all-civilian crew will have orbited the planet.
Rather than just climbing to the edge of space and returning to land in less than an hour as Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin recently did, Inspiration4 will circle the Earth and do so in a higher orbit than the International Space Station.
Paying for it all is Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old billionaire high-school dropout, who is promoting the flight as a massive fundraising effort for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Isaacman, a pilot who is qualified to fly commercial and military jets, reached a deal with SpaceX in late 2020 for the mission. Neither is saying how much he is paying SpaceX for the launch, though Isaacman has said it was far less than $200 million he hopes to raise for St. Jude.
"This dream began 10 months ago," Isaacman said at a news conference Tuesday, noting how quickly the mission came together. "We set out from the start to deliver a very inspiring message, certainly the opportunities up in space and what can be done there. But also what we can accomplish here on Earth."
Joining him are:
►Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude. She was treated for bone cancer herself at the hospital as a child.
►Chris Sembroski, an aerospace worker from Seattle who was selected from among 72,000 entries based donations to St. Jude.
►Sian Proctor, an educator and trained pilot who was a finalist in NASA's 2009 astronaut class.
How the first all-civilian spaceflight came together:Billionaire promoting flight as fundraising effort for St. Jude, documented by Netflix
SpaceX and Isaacman unveiled their project to the world in a TV ad that ran during the Super Bowl in February encouraging people to apply for the mission.
Netflix is also documenting the team's preparation and flight for a series on its platform. While "Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space" is labeled a documentary series, it is more akin to reality television than a Ken Burns film.
Video cameras seemed to have been omnipresent around the crew for months, capturing everything from the moment the crew members first found out they were headed to space (via Zoom calls in which reactions varied from shock to tears) to them sharing the news with friends and family to a trip to Kennedy Space Center to visit the launch pad where they will blast off. It even includes video footage of Arceneaux as a 10-year-old patient at St. Jude.
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