SpaceX announces first mission to space with all-civilian crew
SpaceX announced plans Monday for the first all-civilian mission to space, a major milestone for private spaceflight and the nascent space tourism industry.
The mission aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will feature a four-person crew led by Jared Isaacman, the founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, a Pennsylvania-based payment processing company. The flight is expected to launch sometime in the fourth quarter of this year, according to SpaceX.
Private citizens have flown to space before, but these space tourists typically paid to hitch rides into orbit alongside trained NASA astronauts or Russian cosmonauts. Isaacman’s flight will be the first time a crew made up entirely of private citizens will venture into space. The crewmembers will undergo training by SpaceX, including mission simulations for emergency preparedness and how to handle orbital mechanics during their flight.
Isaacman said in a statement that the mission, dubbed Inspiration4, is “the realization of a lifelong dream and a step towards a future in which anyone can venture out and explore the stars.”
Anyone, that is, with millions of dollars to spend on the ride. SpaceX did not disclose how much Isaacman paid for the flight.
But Musk said he hopes these early joyrides lay the groundwork for more space tourism in the future, beyond just billionaires who are able to afford the flights now.
"It's like when America went to the moon in '69 — it wasn't just a few people, humanity went to the moon," he said. "We all went there with them. And I think it's something similar here."
An all-civilian mission is a huge stepping stone for the private spaceflight industry, but it also presents enormous challenges. Musk said SpaceX’s top priority will be to maximize the safety of the crew.
“Any mission where there’s a crew onboard makes me nervous,” he said. “The risk is not zero.”
The expedition is part of a charity initiative to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In addition to giving $100 million to St. Jude, Isaacman said he is donating the three other seats in the Dragon spacecraft to crewmembers who will be specially selected for the humanitarian flight. “I appreciate this tremendous responsibility that comes with commanding this mission and I want to use this historic moment to inspire humanity while helping to end childhood cancer here on Earth,” Isaacman said.
The Inspiration4 mission will travel into orbit aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX has been launching rockets from Launch Complex 39A since 2017, and the historic pad was previously used for both space shuttle flights and Saturn V launches during NASA’s Apollo moon program.
During the multiday mission, the Dragon capsule will circle Earth once every 90 minutes along a customized flight path, according to SpaceX. At the end of the expedition, the spacecraft will re-enter the planet’s atmosphere and splash down off the coast of Florida.
Isaacman, a trained pilot who has flown both commercial and military aircraft, will command the historic mission. One spot on the flight is reserved for a St. Jude ambassador, while a second seat will be offered to a member of the public as part of a charity drive during the month of February.