It's a 'Major Milestone in Human Spaceflight'

4 tourists, expected to launch Wednesday, will orbit Earth for 3 days
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 15, 2021 11:15 AM CDT
4 Space Tourists Will Orbit Earth for 3 Days
From left, Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman and Hayley Arceneaux sit in the Dragon capsule in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Sunday, during a dress rehearsal for the upcoming launch.   (SpaceX via AP)

Another billionaire is headed to space, this time with an all-civilian crew, in what CNN reports is the "first orbital mission in the history of spaceflight to be staffed entirely by tourists or otherwise non-astronauts." A retrofitted SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule dubbed Resilience will spend three days orbiting Earth from an altitude of 350 miles—100 miles above the International Space Station—after launching on a Falcon 9 rocket in a mission known as Inspiration4. Here's what you need to know:

  • Liftoff: It's scheduled for between 8:02pm ET Wednesday and 1:02am ET Thursday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Forecasts showed a 70% chance of favorable weather conditions for an evening launch as of Wednesday morning, per NBC News. You can take in the expected action live on SpaceX and Netflix's YouTube channels, reports the New York Times. If the launch is delayed, another attempt might be made after 8:05pm ET on Thursday.

  • 72 hours: The four passengers will spend three days inside the 13-foot-wide capsule, sleeping in their reclining seats and relieving themselves in a single "zero-gravity-friendly toilet," per CNN. They'll also perform medical experiments when not taking in the panoramic views via a clear dome at the tip of the gumdrop-shaped spacecraft, which will then splash down off the coast of Florida.
  • Passengers: They are Jared Isaacman, 38, billionaire founder of payment processing company Shift4, who's financing and commanding the mission, estimated to cost $200 million; Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a bone cancer survivor and physician assistant at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital; Sian Proctor, 51, a geologist, educator, pilot, and lifelong space enthusiast; and Chris Sembroski, 42, a US Air Force veteran, aerospace data engineer, and a former counselor at Alabama's Space Camp. They've been in training since March.

  • A series of firsts: Arceneaux, who'll serve as chief medical officer, will be the youngest American and the first person with a prosthetic body part to go to space, per CNN and NBC. She has prosthetic leg bones, per the Times. Proctor, a 2009 finalist in NASA's astronaut selection process, will be just the fourth Black woman from the US to head to orbit. Per a news release, they'll carry the first-ever minted NFT song into orbit, Kings of Leon's "Time in Disguise," which will then be sold at auction.
  • Selection: Isaacman is using the mission, and the auction, as a fundraiser for St. Jude's. He asked the hospital to select a cancer-survivor-turned-healthcare-provider for the trip. Proctor won an online contest for Shift4 users, while Sembroski's friend won a seat in a raffle benefitting St. Jude's, then transferred it to him. Some $30 million of a $100 million goal has been raised for the hospital. Isaacman personally donated $100 million more.

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  • No easy feat: "I think this is a major milestone in human spaceflight," NASA's director of commercial spaceflight, Phil McAlister, tells Today. He notes the mission is more dangerous than other recent space trips by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson because the Crew Dragon will need to travel in the area of 17,500 miles per hour to enter Earth's orbit. It's probably "10 times more difficult" to go to orbit, says McAlister.
  • The risks: But NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told CNBC on Wednesday that the Crew Dragon is likely the safest crewed vehicle ever flown. Crew members face a 1 in 270 chance of death or permanent disability by NASA's estimates, SpaceNews reported in May 2020. CNN notes "NASA's Space Shuttle missions in the 1980s to early 2000s ultimately logged a failure rate of about 1 in every 68 missions."
(More space travel stories.)

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