Inspiration4 is officially underway, registering a new era of private, non-governmental human space flight.
The four crew members — Shift4 Payments founder Jared Isaacman, scientist Sian Proctor, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital employee Hayley Arceneaux, and aeronautical engineer Chris Sembroski — are the first all-civilian crew to fly aboard a private vehicle to low-Earth orbit.
“The door is open now. The view is pretty incredible,” said Isaacman, a billionaire who founded the retail payment processing company Shift4 Payments in 1999.
Though Inspiration4 has a superficially similar story — billionaire goes on expensive rocket ride — both SpaceX and Isaacman seemed more canny about the optics of the event, even bringing a Netflix documentary crew along for their mission planning. (Read our interview with Countdown director Jason Hehir on our subscribers-only newsletter Musk Reads.)
Lifting off from the SpaceX launchpad in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 8:02 p.m. Eastern time, the crew reached orbit shortly after. Each crew member will be able to spend their three days in space taking turns in a cupola window overlooking Earth as the craft passes over our planet once every 90 minutes:
The Crew Dragon capsule will fly higher than the ISS, meaning it will be the highest spacefarers will have gone since the shuttle era. The ISS averages about 254 miles above Earth, while Inspiration4 will orbit at about 335 miles. The last Hubble servicing mission took NASA astronauts up to about 340 miles above Earth in 2009, meaning Inspiration4 will be just short of that.
In addition to the crew, the craft carries a payload of science experiments, including a number of medical experiments in tandem with the Translational Research Institute for Space Health., as detailed by reporter Miriam Kramer for Axios. This, too, may be a part of the canny optics of the mission, attempting to add legitimacy to the mission many felt was lacking in Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic’s forays into space.
In interviews with Inverse, Isaacman says he only briefly spoke to SpaceX founder Elon Musk in advance of the mission, and Proctor not at all in advance of the launch.
The crew flew aboard a modified Crew Dragon, the same craft used to transport astronauts to the ISS. A docking module and the fore of the craft was replaced with the cupola window, previewed by the company earlier this year. Future orbital tourist flights will likely take advantage of this window’s unique vantage, which happens to be right near the toilet.
Though this is SpaceX’s first full foray into space tourism, it’s unlikely to be the last. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa wants to send a Starship around the Moon in 2023 with passengers in tow. He became SpaceX’s first paying tourism customer in 2018. The company is also working with Axiom Space on sending tourists to the ISS, as if it didn’t smell bad enough.
The crew capsule will gently splash into the Atlantic Ocean, slowed by parachutes, tentatively sometime Saturday.
As for food on this mission, the crew could order what they wanted.
“Better wrap the cold pizza because that was my order,” Proctor told reporters this week.
Read more about the Inspiration4: