SpaceX Launches Astronaut Crew Like No Other in Orbital Adventure

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — A SpaceX rocket took off from a launch pad here Wednesday night and took four Americans on a three-day Earth-orbiting adventure like no other.

None of the crew work for NASA. Known as Inspiration4, the mission is the first orbital trip where none of the people on board are professional astronauts and the government is generally a bystander and observer.

When the Falcon 9 rocket’s nine engines fired, lifting the rocket and its passengers into space, the evening sky was almost cloudless.

Jared Isaacman, 38-year-old billionaire and founder of Shift4, a payment processing service, funded the trip. As the mission’s commander, he thanked those who made it possible and said he had brought himself and his crew “to the crossing of an exciting and unexplored frontier.”

“A few have come before but many are about to follow,” he said. “The door is opening now, and it’s pretty incredible.”

Mr. Isaacman’s public profile is far less prominent than the profile of Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos, two billionaires who flew to the edge of space in their company-operated vehicles in July. These trips lasted only a few minutes before returning to the ground.

But Mr. Isaacman’s three-day adventure is perhaps more remarkable, a step towards a future where space travel could be like air travel today – accessible to almost everyone.

This is because Mr. Isaacman has decided not to just bring his friends on this space trip. Instead, he opened up opportunities to three people he didn’t know.

“We set out from the very beginning to deliver a very inspiring message, and we chose to do it through an interesting team selection process,” Mr. Isaacman said at a press conference on Tuesday.

The result is a mission that carries a crew that represents the wider community – St. Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old physician assistant at Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old community college professor who will become the first Black woman to pilot a spacecraft; and Christopher Sembroski, a 42-year-old data engineer.

Mr. Isaacman declined to say how much he paid for this orbital trip, but that’s for one of its stated purposes, St. He said it was less than the $200 million he was hoping to raise for Jude. trip.

At a press conference the day before launch, crew members expressed their excitement and said they didn’t feel nervous.

Miss Arceneaux’s Instagram profile featured images from the Kennedy Space Center. In a post, she posed with her mother, brother and sister-in-law in front of the Falcon 9 rocket. Another, taken from the launch tower, read “He’s ready, we’re ready”.

Dr. “Ready to Fly!” Proctor posted a portrait of himself in his custom SpaceX spacesuit. Announced.

Isaacman responded to some of his followers on Twitter late at night with details about the trip. In response to a CNBC reporter’s question about the potential for a delayed return to Earth due to weather conditions or other factors, he said. they can stay in space for “about a week”.

Late Wednesday afternoon, a live video was posted online showing astronauts donning their spacesuits at a SpaceX building near the launch pad. This reflects a change from the NASA headquarters used by NASA astronauts and the shift from a government-serving mission to one focused on private enterprise.

The astronauts then made the short trip to the launch pad in their Tesla SUV, about three hours before takeoff. They took the elevator to the top of the 255-foot-tall launch tower and crossed a bridge to the Crew Dragon capsule. They stopped to admire the view, gleaming with big smiles. They signed under the wall called the “white room,” a space just outside the capsule door.

Technicians then sealed them to the spacecraft. Two and a half hours before launch, they were all hooked up and checking the communications system. Then there was a long wait, 35 minutes before takeoff, before the rocket was filled with propellant.

Sarah Gillis, SpaceX’s chief space operations engineer, who steered the crew from mission control to orbit, wished them good luck and a god of speed.

“It was a great honor for me to prepare you for this historic flight,” he said.

When the flight was launched, in a video inside the capsule, Dr. In a video showing Proctor and Mr. Sembroski slamming their fists, the crew’s enthusiasm was not subdued by the forces pressing on them.

The capsule was then headed into orbit at an altitude of about 360 miles from the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope. Indeed, the Inspiration4 crew will be further from Earth than anyone else since the Apollo moon missions ended in the 1970s.

Inspiration4 crew members will spend a fair amount of time in orbit to help advance medical research into how the human body responds to being in space.

Other activities will be more fun. For example Proctor will do some artwork.

“I’m excited to bring paint and do some art into space and just think about the fluids and dynamics of watercolors,” he said on Tuesday.

Mr. Sembroski has taken a ukulele with him and plans to play and sing on Crew Dragon.

“I apologize for the ears that were listening carefully, but I’ll do my best,” he said. “I know the acoustics are pretty good.”

St. John’s Wort, which treats children for free and develops treatments for childhood cancers, among other diseases. Includes items auctioned to raise money for the Jude Children’s Research Center. (Ms. Arceneaux was a hospital patient as a child before returning to work there as an adult.)

After reaching orbit, they will make 15 voyages around the planet each day until Saturday, when they plan to return to Earth by splashing down the Florida coast.

Jesus Jimenez contributed news from New York.

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