If all goes according to plan, today SpaceX will launch Inspiration4, the first fully commercial all-civilian mission, to low-Earth orbit that will see the four-person crew travel around the planet many times over three days. The Crew Dragon capsule won’t rendezvous with the International Space Station, but it will fly higher than the ISS.
The launch is expected to take place on the evening of Wednesday, September 15, weather permitting (latest updates give a 70 percent favorability). The 24-hour launch window opens at 8 pm EDT (12 am UTC Sept 16), according to Inspiration4 mission updates. The crew will launch aboard the Resilience Crew Dragon spacecraft on top of a Falcon 9 rocket from the famous Pad39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, the launchpad used by the Space Shuttle and Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins' historic Apollo 11 Moon mission.
This is being dubbed the first all-civilian mission to orbit (though not everyone agrees). It will be the first mission with a completely non-professional crew. Many non-professional astronauts have flown to space before, but all previous launches have included at least one professionally trained astronaut. Inspiration4 will carry four private citizens with no NASA astronaut training, one of whom will be the first person with a prosthesis in space.
To prepare, the crew have rehearsed launch, re-entry, and other operations on SpaceX's capsule simulator, flown in modified aircraft to experience weightlessness and fighter jets and centrifuges to experience rapid spins. You can even watch them prepare in the Netflix documentary series Countdown: Inspiration Mission to Space. The flight is due to reach 160 kilometers (100 miles) higher than the ISS, aiming for an altitude of 575 kilometers (357 miles) above Earth, just above the current position of the Hubble Space Telescope.
The four crew members are Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Christopher Sembroski, and Dr Sian Proctor. Isaacman, the billionaire founder and CEO of payment processing company Shift4 Payments, is bankrolling the flight.
The Inspiration4 mission is part of an effort to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Half of that amount has already been donated by Isaacman as well as two of the seats on the spacecraft. Arceneaux, who is a physician assistant at St Judes, will be the mission's Chief Medical Officer. She will also be the first person with a prosthesis in space after bone cancer surgery where a metal rod in her leg replaced the bone removed. That also makes her the first cancer survivor, and, she believes, the first Cajun in space.
Sembroski, an Air Force veteran who works for Lockheed Martin, will be a mission specialist. Dr Proctor, a geology professor, is the designated pilot for the mission. Proctor was one of the 47 finalists of NASA’s 2009 astronaut selection process, but she didn’t make the final nine.
Apart from the charitable goals of the mission, including taking a wide-ranging list of items to space to auction, the four commercial astronauts will conduct medical experiments and record health data about themselves on their three-day trip. Because they have not gone through the rigorous medical disqualifications and training of professional astronauts, their data could help inform future spaceflights.