A billionaire executive and three not-as-wealthy individuals became the first all-civilian crew to circle the Earth from space aboard a SpaceX ship. This also marked the first orbital tourism flight in history. With this flight, SpaceX puts itself ahead in the space race with competitors such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic.
The flight featuring the all-civilian crew also marks the debut of the potentially lucrative business of space tourism. In exchange for a small fortune worth millions, private citizens get the chance to suit up and ride off into space.
First All-Civilian Crew To Fly Into Space
Jared Isaacman, the 38-year old founder and CEO of Shift4Payments led the all-civilian crew into SpaceX’s first commercial venture into space. Accompanying Isaacman are Sian Proctor, 51, Hayley Arceneaux, 29, and Chris Sembroski, 42.
They wore helmeted black-and-white flight suits for the launch. The amount Isaacman paid to SpaceX for the opportunity remains undisclosed. However, Time magazine estimates the total bill for all four seats is at $200 million.
The crew has no official duties and functions to fly the spacecraft at any point in the flight. SpaceX ground control flight teams and onboard guidance systems are taking care of the work. Just in case, two crew members are licensed pilots.
Isaacman is the onboard mission commander, while Proctor, a former NASA candidate, is the designated pilot. Meanwhile, Arcenaux is the designated chief medical officer, and Sembroski, a former US Air Force aerospace engineer, is the mission specialist.
The all-civilian crew spent the last five months training to withstand the conditions in space. This includes preparing for altitude fitness, centrifuge (G-force), microgravity and simulator training, and emergency drills.
To enhance the civilian experience aboard the Resilience, SpaceX installed a special observation dome in place of the regular docking hatch.
They took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Wednesday aboard a SpaceX rocket and will spend the next few days circling the earth. Initial videos show the all-civilian crew strapped into the pressurized cabin of Resilience, their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.
The team reached orbit within 10 minutes of launch. Within three hours, the capsule achieved its final cruising orbital altitude of 363 miles. This is higher than the International Space Station and the Hubble Telescope.
According to SpaceX, the distance is also the farthest flown by any person from Earth, save for the Apollo moon mission astronauts. At that height, the Crew Dragon began circling the globe once every 90 minutes.
It did so at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour. This is approximately 22 times the speed of sound. The all-civilian crew will spend around three days in space, including launch and splashdown.
Many Are About To Follow
Meanwhile, cheers erupted inside SpaceX’s mission control center as the spacecraft ascended into orbital altitude. Isaacman read a statement giving thanks to all who made the trip possible.
He said that this is “right to the doorstep of an exciting and unexplored frontier, where few have come before and many are about to follow.” He added: “The door is open now, and it's pretty incredible.”
Isaacman also said that the space mission, dubbed “Inspiration4,” is not only about carrying an all-civilian crew for the first time. He said he conceived the mission to raise awareness and support for one of his favourite causes, St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a Tennessee-based pediatric cancer centre.
NASA Ending Its Monopoly on Spaceflight
With the first all-civilian crew now orbiting the Earth, NASA witnessed the end of its monopoly on spaceflight. The space agency accepted the inevitability of commercialized space travel.
Shortly before launch, it sent a Twitter message that said: “#Inspiration4 embodies our vision for a future in which private companies can transport cargo and people to low-Earth orbit. More opportunities to fly = more opportunities for science.”
Isaacman joins a stellar group of billionaires who went into space this year. Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson went along for his company’s initial spaceflight in July. Nine days later, former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos strapped in a Blue Origin rocket to take part in its launch into space.
Watch the SpaceX Livestream of the Inspiration4 launch held late Wednesday:
Do you want to join a civilian space flight in the near future? Do you also think that space flights will become affordable during your time?
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