SpaceX launches 4 amateurs on private trip around Earth – Reuters


SpaceX’s first private flight lifted off Wednesday night with two contest winners, a healthcare worker and their wealthy sponsor, in the most ambitious leap in space tourism yet.

It was the first time a rocket had headed into orbit with an all-amateur crew — not professional astronauts.

The two men and two women in the Dragon capsule are looking to spend three days circling the world from an unusually high orbit – 100 miles (160 kilometers) higher than the International Space Station – before crashing off the coast of Florida shores this weekend.

Leading the heist is 38-year-old Jared Isaacman, who made his fortune with a payment processing company he started as a teenager.

This is SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s first appearance in the competition for space tourism dollars. Isaacman is the third billionaire to launch this summer, following brief spaceflights by Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos in July.

Joining Isaacman on the trip dubbed Inspiration4 is Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a childhood cancer survivor who works as a physician assistant where she was treated – St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Isaacman has pledged $100 million from his own pocket to the hospital and is seeking another $100 million in donations.

Also in the game: contest winners Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Everett, Washington, and Sian Proctor, 51, a community college educator in Tempe, Arizona.

Arceneaux is set to become the youngest American in space and the first person in space with a prosthetic, titanium rod in her left leg.

The recycled Falcon rocket launched from the same Kennedy Space Center pad used by the company’s three previous astronaut flights for NASA. But this time, the Dragon capsule was aimed at an altitude of 357 miles (575 kilometers), just beyond the Hubble Space Telescope.

Their fully automated capsule has already been put into orbit: it was used for SpaceX’s second astronaut flight for NASA to the space station. The only significant change is the large domed window at the top in place of the space station’s usual docking mechanisms.

Isaacman, an accomplished pilot, persuaded SpaceX to take the Dragon capsule higher than it has ever been. Initially reluctant due to increased radiation exposure and other risks, SpaceX agreed after a safety review.

“Now I just wish we pushed them to go higher,” Isaacman told reporters on the eve of the flight. “If we’re going to go back to the moon and go to Mars and beyond, then we have to get out of our comfort zone a bit and take the next step in that direction.”

Isaacman, whose Allentown, Pa.-based company Shift4 Payments, bears the entire bill for the theft, but won’t say how many millions he paid. He and others support these big price tags which will eventually bring the cost down.

“Yes, today you must have and be prepared to part with a large sum of money to buy yourself a trip to space,” said Explorers Club president Richard Garriott, the son of a NASA astronaut who paid the Russians for a trip to the space station for over a year. a decade ago. “But it’s the only way to bring prices down and expand access, as has been the case with other industries before him.

Although the capsule is automated, the four Dragon pilots spent six months training for the flight to deal with any emergency. That training included centrifuge and fighter jet flights, launch and re-entry exercises in SpaceX’s capsule simulator, and a grueling hike up Washington’s Mount Rainier in the snow.

Four hours before liftoff, the four emerged from SpaceX’s massive rocket hangar four hours before liftoff, waving and blowing kisses to their families and company employees, before being chased off to don their elegant white flight suits. Once on the launch pad, they posed for pictures and banged their gloved fists, before taking the elevator. Proctor danced as she headed for the hatch.

Unlike NASA missions, the public will not be able to listen, let alone watch events unfold in real time. Arceneaux hopes to connect with St. Jude patients, but the conversation will not be broadcast live.

SpaceX’s next private trip, early next year, will see a retired NASA astronaut escort three wealthy businessmen to the space station for a week-long visit. The Russians are sending a Japanese actress, director and tycoon to the space station in the coming months.

Once opposed to space tourism, NASA is now in favor of it. The shift from government astronauts to non-professionals “is just mind-boggling,” said former NASA administrator Charles Bolden, former commander of the space shuttle.

“One day, NASA astronauts will be the exception, not the rule,” said Mason Peck of Cornell University, an engineering professor who served as NASA’s chief technologist nearly a decade ago. “But they will probably continue to be the pioneers that the rest of us will follow.”


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