SpaceX successfully launched its first mission to orbit without professional astronauts.
The company conducted the Inspiration4 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida Wednesday night in a trip organized and financed by billionaire businessman Jared Isaacman. The four-person crew will spend three days in space orbiting the Earth before splashing back down in Florida.
The launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, perched atop a previously-used Falcon 9 rocket, went off without a hitch.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 16, 2021
The Dragon capsule is expected to reach an altitude of 357 miles, which is just beyond the Hubble Space Telescope, according to The Associated Press.
NBC News reports that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is touting Wednesday's launch as a major step forward for the space tourism industry. At the moment, space travel is all but out of reach outside of the ultra-wealthy, but Musk and other space tourism CEOs say these early flights will prove vital in normalizing space flight among civilians.
NASA pilots and flight crews were aboard previous manned SpaceX launches. And while billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson recently flew to the edge of Earth's atmosphere in their own spacecrafts, those missions lasted only mere minutes.
The Inspiration4 crew includes:
- Jared Isaacman, 38, the billionaire founder of Shift4 Payments, a payment processing company based in Pennsylvania. Isaacman financed the trip and recruited the other members of the crew.
- Hayley Areceneaux, 29, a cancer survivor who now works as a physician assistant at St. Jude in Memphis, Tennessee — a medical center that will receive a $100 million charitable gift from Isaacman. CNN reports that St. Jude selected Arceneaux at Isaacman's request and that she will be the first person with a prosthetic body part to travel to space.
- Sian Proctor, 51, a geologist who won her seat on the crew through a social media post in which she highlighted her space-themed artwork and "entrepreneurial spirit."
- Chris Sembroski, 42, an Air Force veteran and Lockheed Martin employee from Seattle. A former Space Camp counselor, Sembroski won his seat through a raffle he entered by donating to St. Jude.