By Julio-Cesar Chavez and Steve Gorman
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – The latest in a recent line of space-obsessed billionaires launched Wednesday with three less wealthy private citizens aboard a SpaceX rocket, seeking to become the first all-civilian crew to launch in Earth orbit.
The quartet of amateur space travelers, led by U.S. founder and CEO of e-commerce company Shift4 Payments Inc, Jared Isaacman, was scheduled to take off at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
SpaceX senior manned spaceflight manager Benji Reed told reporters in Cape Town on Tuesday that “everything looks fine” after a final “static” rocket engine firing test Monday morning.
“Right now the weather is going well” for an on-time launch, he said.
The flight, without professional astronauts accompanying paying SpaceX customers, is expected to last about three days, from takeoff to landing in the Atlantic.
They will fly aboard a shiny white SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, perched atop one of the company’s reusable Falcon 9 rockets and fitted with a special observation dome in place of the hatch. usual mooring.
Isaacman, 38, the benefactor of the trip, paid an undisclosed but presumably hefty sum to fellow billionaire and SpaceX owner Elon Musk to throw himself and his three teammates into the air. Time magazine put the ticket price for the four seats at $ 200 million.
The Inspiration4 mission was designed by Isaacman primarily to raise awareness and support one of his favorite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a major pediatric cancer center in Memphis, Tennessee.
This is the first flight for Musk’s new orbital touring business and a leap forward over its competitors also offering rocket rides to affluent customers willing to pay a small fortune for the euphoria and the bragging rights of space flights.
Inspiration4 aims for an orbital altitude of 360 miles (575 km) above Earth, higher than the International Space Station or the Hubble Space Telescope. At this height, the Crew Dragon will circle the globe every 90 minutes at a speed of about 17,000 miles per hour (27,360 km / h), or about 22 times the speed of sound.
ADVANCE THE COMPETITORS
Rival companies Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin launched their own private astronaut services this summer, with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/science/virgin-galactics-branson- ready-space- launch-aboard-rocket-plane-2021-07-11 and Jeff Bezos https://www.reuters.com/article/us-space-exploration-blueorigin-idAFKBN2EQ0EP, each accompanying the ride.
But these suborbital flights, lasting a few minutes, were short leaps from Inspiration4’s spaceflight profile.
SpaceX already ranks as the most established player in the burgeoning constellation of commercial rocket companies, having launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA. Two of its Dragon capsules are already docked there.
Despite a few largely honorary titles, the Inspiration4 crew will have no role to play in piloting the spacecraft, which will be operated by ground flight teams and on-board guidance systems, even if two crew members are licensed pilots.
Isaacman, who is qualified to fly commercial and military jets, took on the role of mission “commander”, while geoscientist Sian Proctor, 51, a former NASA astronaut candidate, was named as “pilot” of the mission. the mission.
The crew is complemented by “Chief Medical Officer” Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a bone cancer survivor turned physician assistant in St. Jude, and mission “specialist” Chris Sembroski, 42, a veteran of US Air Force and aerospace data engineer.
The four teammates spent five months rigorous preparations, including altitude training, centrifugation (G-force), microgravity and simulator training, emergency drills, classroom work and medical exams.
The people in charge of Inspiration4 emphasize that the mission is more than a ride.
Once in orbit, the crew will perform a series of medical experiments with “potential applications for human health on Earth and during future space flights,” the group said in media documents.
Biomedical data and biological samples, including ultrasound scans, will also be collected from crew members before, during and after the flight.
“The Inspiration4 crew look forward to using our mission to help create a better future for those who embark on the years and decades to come,” Isaacman said in a statement.
(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney)