Elon Musk’s SpaceX has made history as the world’s first all-civilian crew successfully launched into Earth’s orbit on Wednesday.
There were roars of applause and cheers as the four amateur space travellers set off on the historic mission from the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Jared Isaacman, 38, and his crewmates – Sian Proctor, 51, Hayley Arceneaux, 29, and Chris Sembroski, 42 – had earlier all strolled out of a SpaceX hangar waving to cheering crowds of family, friends and well-wishers.
A webcast of the launch showed the four strapped into the pressurised cabin of their gleaming white SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, wearing their helmeted black-and-white flight suits.
The capsule roared into the Florida sky at 8:03 pm local time perched atop one of the company’s reusable two-stage Falcon 9 rockets and fitted with a special observation dome in place of its usual docking hatch.
The Crew Dragon, fitted with a special observation dome in place of its usual docking hatch, reached orbit almost 10 minutes after blastoff.
SPACEX/AFP via Getty Images)
The rocket’s first-stage booster, after separating from the spacecraft’s top half, descended back to Earth and touched down safely on a landing platform floating in the Atlantic on a drone ship affectionately named Just Read the Instructions.
The flight, with no professional astronauts accompanying SpaceX’s paying customers, is expected to last about three days from lift off to splashdown in the Atlantic.
“Everything is go for launch,” SpaceX principal integration engineer John Insprucker said shortly before launch time.
The four crew members were driven in two vehicles across the space centre complex to a support building, where they donned the black-and-white spacesuits.
They then headed to the launch pad to board a gleaming white SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, perched atop one of the company’s reusable Falcon 9 rockets and fitted with a special observation dome in place of the usual docking hatch.
It marked the debut flight of SpaceX owner Elon Musk’s new orbital tourism business, and a leap ahead of competitors likewise offering rides on rocket ships to customers willing to pay a small fortune for the exhilaration – and bragging rights – of spaceflight.
Mr Isaacman paid an undisclosed sum to fellow billionaire Musk to send himself and his three crewmates aloft.
Time magazine put the ticket price for all four seats at $200 million (£150m).
The mission, which is called Inspiration4, was conceived by Mr Isaacman mainly to raise awareness and support for one of his favourite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading paediatric cancer centre in Memphis, Tennessee.
Inspiration4 is aiming for an orbital altitude of 360 miles (575 km) above Earth, higher than the International Space Station or Hubble Space Telescope.
At that height, the Crew Dragon will circle the globe once every 90 minutes at a speed of some 17,000 miles per hour (27,360 kph), or roughly 22 times the speed of sound.
Rival companies Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc and Blue Origin inaugurated their own private-astronaut services this summer, with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos each going along for the ride.
Those suborbital flights, lasting a matter of minutes, were short hops compared with Inspiration4’s spaceflight.
SpaceX already ranks as the most well-established player in the burgeoning constellation of commercial rocket ventures, having launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA.
Two of its Dragon capsules are docked there already.
The Inspiration4 crew has no part to play in flying the spacecraft, which is operated by ground-based flight teams and onboard guidance systems, even though two crew members are licensed pilots.
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