SpaceX sent four citizens into space, marking the first manned mission to space without professional astronauts. The mission, dubbed Inspiration4, is the latest private foray into space as companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX strive to make space travel more accessible for those who aren’t government astronauts.
At 8:02 p.m. EDT Wednesday, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center launch pad 39A, flying off the east coast of Florida under a clear night sky. Hayley Arsino, a 29-year-old medical assistant and cancer survivor; Christoph Semprowski, a data engineer at Lockheed Martin; And Sian Proctor, a geologist and former NASA astronaut candidate, aboard the capsule ship with the billionaire businessman Jared Askman, qualified pilot and founder of payment processing company Shift4 Payments.
The crew is secured in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Resilience capsule above the rocket, which has reused the spacecraft that sent four government astronauts to the International Space Station more than a year ago. Inspiration4, on the other hand, will not dock with the space station. Instead, it’ll spend about three days orbiting Earth at a greater altitude, about 360 miles above Earth, which would be the farthest manned spaceflight since NASA’s 2009 space shuttle mission to repair the Hubble telescope.
The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket returned to Earth about nine minutes after liftoff, landing on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean. When the rocket left Earth’s atmosphere, the Crew Dragon capsule detached from the rocket’s second stage, sending the Inspiration4 crew straight into orbit.
The mission is to raise millions of dollars in donations for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a non-profit research laboratory that also provides free cancer treatment to children. Isaacman has donated $100 million to the hospital and hopes to raise an additional $100 million through the Inspiration4 initiative.
The Inspiration4 Crew Dragon capsule is designed to provide a more touristic experience than that enjoyed by NASA astronauts during their visits to the International Space Station. SpaceX built a massive glass dome where the capsule station’s docking door typically sits months before the mission to give Inspiration4 passengers a 360-degree view of orbital space.
Earlier this year, Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin flew into space on separate flights, becoming some of the first passengers to go to space. However, they have not been called astronauts since the Federal Aviation Administration changed the definition of astronauts.
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