For the next three days, the passengers will float around the capsule as it circles around the planet once every 90 minutes, traveling at more than 17,500 miles per hour, while the passengers float and take in panoramic views of Earth. To cap off the journey, their spacecraft will dive back into the atmosphere for a fiery re-entry and splashdown off the coast of Florida.
Splashdown is currently slated for Saturday, but that could change if weather or other issues prompt an earlier or later return. The capsule is stocked with enough food and supplies for about a week.
This is only the third crew launch from US soil in the past decade.
The crew includes 38-year-old billionaire Jared Isaacman, who personally financed the trip; Hayley Arceneux, 29, a childhood cancer survivor and current St. Jude physician assistant; Sian Procotor, 51, a geologist and community college teacher with a PhD; and Chris Sembroski, a 42-year-old Lockheed Martin employee and lifelong space fan who claimed his seat through an online raffle.
All four passengers will spend the entire mission aboard the SpaceX capsule, a 13-foot-wide, gumdrop-shaped spacecraft that detaches from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket after reaching orbital speeds and was originally built to carry NASA astronauts.
For all three days in space, the passengers will all have to share a special zero-gravity-friendly toilet located near the top of the capsule. No showering will be available, and crew will all have to sleep in the same reclining seats they will ride in during launch.
SpaceX hopes this will be the first of many similar tourism missions, paving the way toward a future when it’s as common to take a jaunt to space as it is to hop on an aeroplane. The Crew Dragon capsule is SpaceX’s first step on the way there.
Though it was designed and built under a NASA contract and intended to get astronauts to and from the International Space Station, SpaceX still owns and operates the vehicle and is allowed to sell seats or entire missions to whoever the companies wish.
SpaceX and its space tourism customers get to design the entire mission from picking the flight path and training regiment all the way down to choosing which foods the passengers will munch on while in orbit.
At a press briefing Tuesday evening, Sembroski, the 42-year-old who got his ticket via a raffle, told reporters that joining the Inspriation4 mission felt like “we’re writing the rules, we’re breaking a couple of them that NASA used to demand…We get to kind of do things our own way.”
Though NASA has been averse to signing up non-astronauts for routine missions after the death of Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire school teacher who was killed in the Challenger disaster in 1986, a cohort of wealthy thrill-seekers paid their own way to the International Space Station in the 2000s through a company called Space Adventures.
American investment management billionaire Dennis Tito became the first to self-fund a trip in 2001 with his eight-day stay on the International Space Station, and six others came after him. They all booked rides alongside professional astronauts on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.
Jared Isaacman, who will become the third billionaire to self-fund a trip space in the past three months and the first to buy a trip to orbit on a SpaceX capsule is billing this mission as one that he hopes will inspire would-be space adventureres, hence the missions’s name, Inspiration4.
He’s also using it as the centerpiece for a $200 million fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, $100 million of which he donated personally and the rest he is hoping to raise through online donations and an auction set to begin Thursday. Items will include a ukulele that Sembroski will play in space and 66 pounds of beer hops.