The first fully civilian crew to launch into orbit aboard the SpaceX rocket
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Sept. 15 (Reuters) – A billionaire e-commerce executive and three less wealthy private citizens chosen to join him took off from Florida on Wednesday aboard a SpaceX rocket and went into orbit, the first of all civilian crew never circled the Earth from space.
The quartet of amateur astronauts, led by U.S. founder and CEO of financial services firm Shift4 Payments Inc (FOUR.N), Jared Isaacman, took off just before sunset from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.
A SpaceX webcast of the launch showed Isaacman, 38, and his teammates – Sian Proctor, 51, Hayley Arceneaux, 29, and Chris Sembroski, 42 – strapped into the pressurized cabin of their shiny white SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, nicknamed Resilience, wearing their black and white helmeted flight suits.
Thumbs up were on display as the capsule raced through the dark sky, perched atop one of SpaceX’s reusable double-decker Falcon 9 rockets. The Crew Dragon, fitted with a special observation dome in place of its usual docking hatch, reached orbit nearly 10 minutes after takeoff at 8:03 p.m. EDT.
The rocket’s first stage thruster, after separating from the top half of the spacecraft, returned to Earth and landed safely on a floating landing pad in the Atlantic aboard a fancifully named drone Just Read the Instructions
Amid the cheers heard in SpaceX’s Mission Control Center as the spacecraft soared nearly 200 km above Earth, Isaacman read a statement thanking those who made a trip “to the threshold possible. of an exciting and unexplored frontier, where few have come before and many are about to follow.
“The door is open now, and it’s pretty amazing,” he said.
In less than three hours, the capsule had reached its final cruising orbital altitude of just over 363 miles (585 km) – higher than the International Space Station or the Hubble Space Telescope, and further than a human. has flown from Earth since the end of NASA’s Apollo lunar program in 1972., according to SpaceX.
At this height, the Crew Dragon circled 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.
The flight, which marks the first crewed mission to orbit without professional astronauts, is expected to last around three days from launch to landing in the Atlantic, mission officials said.
It also marked the first flight of SpaceX owner Elon Musk’s new orbital tourism venture and a leap forward on competitors also offering rocket rides to customers willing to pay a small fortune for the euphoria – and bragging rights – of space flight.
NASA, which for decades had a government monopoly on spaceflight, has embraced the burgeoning commercialization of rockets.
In a Twitter message released shortly before Wednesday’s launch, the space agency said, “# Inspiration4 embodies our vision of a future in which private companies can transport goods and people into low earth orbit. ‘opportunities to fly = more opportunities for science. “
Isaacman paid an undisclosed sum to his fellow billionaire Musk to send himself and his three teammates into the air. Time magazine put the ticket price for the four seats at $ 200 million.
The mission, called Inspiration4, was designed by Isaacman primarily to raise awareness and donate for one of his favorite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a pediatric cancer center in Memphis, Tennessee.
BILLIONS OF SUBORBITAL SPACE
SpaceX rivals Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc (SPCE.N) and Blue Origin launched their own private astronaut services this summer, with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos each.
These suborbital flights, lasting a few minutes, were short jumps 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.
The Inspiration4 crew have no role in piloting the spacecraft, which is operated by ground flight crews and on-board guidance systems, even though two crew members are licensed pilots.
Isaacman, who is qualified to fly commercial and military jets, took on the role of mission “commander”, while Proctor, a geoscientist and former NASA astronaut candidate, was named “pilot.”
The crew is complemented by “Chief Physician” Arceneaux, a bone cancer survivor turned medical assistant to St. Jude, and Mission “Specialist” Sembroski, a US Air Force veteran and data engineer. aerospace.
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.
Inspiration4 officials said the mission was more than a ride.
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.
Biomedical data and biological samples, including ultrasound scans, will also be collected from crew members before, during and after the flight.
Arceneaux was responsible for supervising the medical experiments. She also made history as the youngest American to launch into space and the youngest of just over 550 humans to reach Earth orbit, according to SpaceX.
Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney
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