Last night, a group of four “ordinary” people blasted off into space in the first space mission with no professional astronauts. The four will remain in space, circling the Earth for three days before splashing down this weekend.
The mission, called Inspiration4, was the idea of billionaire Jared Isaacman, who paid the company SpaceX to arrange the flight. Mr. Isaacman has long been interested in flying. He’s a pilot who has flown many different kinds of airplanes, including fighter jets.
Mr. Isaacman decided to use the trip to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. That’s an organization that works to help children who have cancer.
The crew will be carried into space in the same SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule that carries NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). But the door that normally docks with the ISS has been replaced with a huge window.
The capsule has room for four crew members. Mr. Isaacman’s company held a contest to fill one of the spots. The position was won by Dr. Sian Proctor, a college professor who was nearly chosen as a NASA astronaut in 2009.
St. Jude got to hand out the other two places on the flight. Haley Arceneaux will be taking one. Ms. Arceneaux, 29, was a cancer patient at St. Jude when she was a child. She recovered fully, though now she has some prosthetic bones in one leg.
Ms. Arceneaux now works at St. Jude as a physician’s assistant, helping patients and assisting doctors. Ms. Arceneaux is the youngest American to fly into orbit. She’s also the first person with a prosthetic body part to go into space.
The final spot on the flight went to Chris Sembroski. Mr. Sembroski used to be part of the US Air Force and now works at the aerospace company Lockheed Martin.
Though this is the first “all amateur” flight, it’s clear that the crew members have a lot of knowledge and experience that will be helpful. They have also had a quick and intense astronaut training course, to help prepare them.
The Inspiration4 mission will orbit 360 miles (575 km) above the Earth. That’s about 93 miles (150 kilometers) higher than the ISS.
It’s also more than five times higher than missions launched earlier this year by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. Though all of these trips focused on “space tourism”, Inspiration4 doesn’t have professional astronauts running the mission. Instead, the entire trip will be run automatically.
Mr. Isaacman sees this mission as opening up space for ordinary tourists. Though it costs far too much for anyone but billionaires to fly to space now, many people expect the price to drop. They point out that plane travel used to be very expensive, but now many people can afford it.
Though the crew of the Inspiration4 will have some minor experiments to work on during the trip, they will also have three days together in a very small space. Some people think of the Inspiration4 itself as an experiment, but with people.
The Inspiration4 is expected to splash down sometime Saturday.