The world’s first crew of “amateur astronauts” is preparing for a mission that will take them into orbit before returning them to Earth this weekend.
The four civilians, who have spent the past few months on an astronaut training course, are scheduled to launch a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 8.02pm local time on Wednesday (1.02am UK time on Thursday).
Barring any glitches, the two men and two women on the Inspiration4 mission are expected to orbit the planet for three or four days, conducting experiments and enjoying the view through a glass dome mounted on their Dragon capsule, before plunging into the Atlantic Ocean.
described as “The world’s first civilian orbital mission‘, the launch is the latest to promote the virtues of space tourism and follows sub-orbital flights in July by Sir Richard Branson aboard Virgin Galactic’s spaceship 2. which has since been suspended for deviating from the path – and Jeff Bezos on New Shepard Rocket from Blue Origin.
While the Inspiration4 crew received flying lessons, centrifugal sessions for the G-Forces test launch, and hours of training in the SpaceX capsule simulator, the mission will be nearly fully automated. The capsule is set to orbit the Earth at an altitude of 360 miles (575 km), about 93 miles higher than the International. space Station.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX announced in February that billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, who has spent thousands of hours on various planes, has rented the Falcon 9 rocket for himself and three members of the public. He donated two seats to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and chose Hayley Arsino, a former cancer patient at the hospital who is now an employee there, to join him. At 29 years old, Arceneaux is set to become the youngest American on orbit.
Also participating in the mission are Dr. Sian Proctor, a geologist and science communicator who reached the final round of NASA’s 2009 astronaut selection process, and Chris Sembrowski, a US Air Force veteran and aerospace engineer with Lockheed Martin, who offered him the seat from Before a friend won her a charity raffle in St Jude.
While the Inspiration4 mission is another billionaire-paid mission, it is a milestone in space tourism: Never before has an entire crew of amateurs been launched into orbit. “This will be the first time that a global superpower has not sent people into orbital space,” Isakman said. “When this mission is complete, people will look at it and say, ‘This was the first time every day that people could go into space. “
Lewis Brennan, a professor of business studies at Trinity Business School in Dublin, said SpaceX was “leading the pool” of private sector companies interested in space. He likened space tourism today to the time before low-cost airlines created a mass market for air travel. “In the same way, space tourism is likely to remain the preserve of the more affluent classes in the short to medium term, as the cost is prohibitive for middle-income people,” he said. “In the long run, as costs imply a reduction, it is likely to become a mass market activity. But for now and in the short and medium term, it will be a niche market.”
With the industry for decades moving beyond the National Space Agency into tourism, it will be more necessary than ever to avoid mishaps and disasters. “Safety in space tourism is of paramount importance because any accident involving death or injury has a real risk of undermining confidence on the part of potential space tourism customers,” Brennan said.