The four members of the Inspiration4 mission pose for a photo after centrifuge training.

Inspiring stuff

SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission: Launch date, crew, mission details for the historic journey

Why four people are headed to low-Earth orbit in September (probably).

After its third successful mission sending astronauts to the International Space Station, SpaceX has shown it can reliably bring people into Earth’s orbit. And by the end of September, Elon Musk’s space firm will likely have flown civilian passengers to low-Earth orbit via the Inspiration4 mission.

When will SpaceX Inspiration4 launch?

The SpaceX Inspiration4 launch date is “no earlier than September 15, 2021,” according to the official mission website, and SpaceX is planning to launch a mission to bring four civilians into Earth’s orbit. The mission is called Inspiration4 and is funded by Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments.

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.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk (left) and Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments.

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, who is 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.

The Crew Dragon module and Falcon 9 rocket will most likely be flight-tested, according to the Inspiration4 website, which means they will have previously flown on a mission and are being reused. In addition to the crew, it will carry 365 lbs 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.

The mission will reach low-Earth orbit and will last about three days. 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.

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 earlier this month, 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.