After its third successful mission sending astronauts to the International Space Station, SpaceX has shown it can reliably bring people into Earth’s orbit. Next week, Elon Musk’s space-faring firm plans to take this to a new level with the launch of the first all-civilian mission to space.
Inspiration4 will send up four crew members in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, launched with a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida. It’s set to be the first crewed SpaceX mission not to feature NASA, and it could pave the way for more ambitious missions to the Moon and Mars.
“We're not going to get to the moon again, or to Mars and beyond, if we don't get outside our comfort zone a little bit,” Jared Isaacman, the Inspiration4 passenger who is also funding the mission, told Inverse earlier this month.
Want to find out more about SpaceX’s plans and Inspiration4? Subscribe to MUSK READS+ for exclusive interviews and analysis about spaceflight, electric cars, and more.
When will SpaceX Inspiration4 launch?
The Inspiration4 mission has a 24-hour launch window starting at 8 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, September 15. The mission could launch at any point during that time. A backup 24-hour period will start immediately after, meaning the rocket could effectively launch at any point over a 48-hour period.
SpaceX is expected to narrow down the window to five hours in the days leading up to the launch.
Isaacman is an experienced civilian pilot who flies fighter jets in his spare time, and has chosen three others to accompany him on the three-day journey. He is privately paying SpaceX for the mission.
Who are the civilian astronauts for Inspiration4?
The three additional crew members have been chosen by their relation to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital or Isaacman’s company Shift4. A goal of the mission is to raise $100 million in private donations for the hospital, supplemented by an additional $100 million donation by Isaacman. This team will comprise the first all-civilian mission to space.
Isaacman, an accomplished pilot, is the mission commander. He has flown dozens of commercial, military, and experimental aircraft, and founded the Black Diamond Jet Team. The launch and orbit will be controlled autonomously by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft, but Isaacman will be able to take control in case of an emergency.
Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old survivor of childhood cancer and physician assistant at St. Jude, was the first crewmember to be chosen to fly alongside Isaacman. She will become the youngest American to travel to space if the launch timeline goes according to plan.
Arceneaux was a patient at St. Jude when she was 10 years old, suffering from bone cancer. She beat the disease after chemotherapy and a partial replacement of a femur, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
Sian Proctor is a geoscientist and science communicator and was a finalist in NASA’s 2009 Astronaut Program. She has a Ph.D. in science education, as well as a bachelor’s in environmental science and a master’s in geology.
She has completed four “analog” missions, which are simulated space missions on Earth. These include two stints at the Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or HI-SEAS, to research crew cohesion strategies and food use in long-term missions. Proctor was selected from a group of 200 other entrepreneurs who used Isaacman’s payments platform to raise money for St. Jude, according to USA Today.
Chris Sembroski is a former Space Camp counselor and Air Force veteran. He currently works on machine fault detection at Lockheed Martin. During his time in the Air Force, he maintained intercontinental ballistic missiles and was deployed during the Iraq War. He was chosen from 72,000 other applicants who qualified for the mission by donating to St. Jude.
Where and how will Inspiration4 launch?
The civilian astronauts will fly on the same Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket system used to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. The mission will launch from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
EverydayAstronaut contributor Trevor Sesnic noted on July 31 that SpaceX is expected to use the Falcon 9 booster dubbed B1062. This will be the third trip for this booster and the first crewed mission, having previously flown on satellite launches in November 2020 and June 2021.
The team will fly in the Crew Dragon capsule dubbed Resilience. This capsule previously flew on the Crew-1 mission on November 16, 2020. This launched NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
- In addition to the crew, it will carry 365 pounds of scientific equipment
- The module’s launch, orbit, and re-entry will be controlled autonomously, and the crew will orbit Earth once every 90 minutes
- It will orbit at an altitude of 540 kilometers (335 miles), higher than the 254-mile altitude of the International Space Station. It’s also the furthest any humans have traveled into space since the 2009 mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, which reached an altitude of 340 miles.
- The mission will orbit for about three days. The mission will feature experiments that focus on human health and the effects of spaceflight.
- The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule size is 26.7 feet fall with a diameter of 13 feet, so the quarters for the four will be relatively tight over the three-day mission
However, Isaacman told Inverse earlier this month that the 360-degree glass dome helps to make the Crew Dragon feel “roomy.”
After re-entry and splashdown, SpaceX boats will recover the capsule and crew. The module is brought onto the deck of the boat, and the hatch is opened. Medical professionals then perform initial checks to make sure the crew is safe.
Are there other civilian missions to space?
Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company, announced on April 29, 2021, that it would soon be selling tickets for its own civilian space mission.
This news comes after Blue Origin successfully launched its New Shepard capsule into orbit on a BE-3 rocket in July 2021, and then safely recovered both the rocket and capsule. This was expected to be the last uncrewed mission Blue Origin needed before sending humans into space.
However, it’s unclear what timeline Blue Origin is targeting for its first civilian flight. If Bezos is gunning to claim the historic “first civilian spaceflight” for Blue Origin, then it will have to be this year.
SUBSCRIBE TO MUSK READS+, A PREMIUM NEWSLETTER THAT COVERS THE WORLDS OF ELON MUSK, SPACEX, TESLA, AND EVERYTHING BETWEEN.
This article was originally published on