The era of orbital private spaceflight truly begins with today’s launch

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There has been a slight kerfuffle in the space community over the past few weeks about what to call the Inspiration 4 mission, which launches this evening from Florida on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

Entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, who paid for and will lead the three-day mission, preferred what it deemed “the world’s first all-civilian space flight to orbit.” But it’s not really accurate. According to Jonathan McDowell of Harvard University, beginning with the Soyuz TMA-3 mission in 2003, had the first 15 all-civilian orbital flights. The most recent civilian flight was SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission. The definition of “citizen” is “a person who is not in the armed services.”

Technically, the Inspire 4 is the first orbital spacecraft with an “all private” crew – people who are neither in the military nor professional astronauts for the civilian space agency. But regardless of the semantics, this mission is different.

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it is really, historical.

Before this every other orbital manned spacecraft has been flown for or by a government agency. Yes, there may have been one or two private citizens on board, but they were strictly passengers along for the ride.

In contrast, Inspiration4 is a mission purchased by a private citizen and run by a private company, and will serve the primary purpose of the holiday. If space is to truly become a place where thousands of people live, work and play, we will need non-governmental missions. And this is the beginning of that era.

Isaacman, the founder of payment processing company Shift4 Payments, didn’t want his mission to be seen only as a rich man’s pleasure. So he brought a diverse team with him: Dr. Sean Proctor, a geologist, entrepreneur, and trained pilot; Hayley Arsinaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; and Chris Sambrowski, an aerospace data engineer.

Through awareness activities before, during and after the flight, Isaacman aims to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to combat pediatric cancer. He’s also a marketing master, turning the mission into a movie for Netflix and getting many Time magazine covers.

“We know the four of us are going to have an experience that we only had about 600 or so before,” Isaacman said during a news conference on Tuesday. “We’re very focused on making sure that we give back every bit of the time we spend in class for the people and the causes that matter most to us.”

The mission is set to launch Wednesday (00:02 UTC Thursday) at 8:02 a.m. ET from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After take-off, the Crew Dragon spacecraft will separate from the Falcon 9 rocket and fly to an altitude of 575 km, which is higher than NASA’s Hubble spacecraft missions since the Apollo program to the planet. The weather conditions are looking good for the launch.

Inspiration 4 crew, clockwise from top: Jared Isaacman;  Hayley Arsinaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital;  Chris Sambrowski, an aerospace data engineer;  and scientist-teacher Dr. Sean Proctor.

Over the course of three days, the crew of four will enjoy microgravity and will be able to view Earth through a new “cupola” observation dome, the mechanism used to dock the International Space Station on Dragon’s previous flight. replaces.

An interesting aspect of the mission will be the extent to which the 72 hours in the relatively confined space between four people affects the psychology of the crew. Is it too long for a private, free-flying orbital mission? just enough time? We’re about to find out.

SpaceX’s webcast for the Inspiration 4 mission should begin about four hours before launch.

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