UPDATE 8:20 p.m. ET: The Inspiration 4 crew successfully launched tonight and is now in orbit. The Falcon 9’s first stage booster also landed on its droneship without incident. Check out some clips in the tweets below, and watch the pre-show and full launch in the video embeds below that (launch happens around the 4-hour, 17-minute mark in this video).
An all-civilian crew is preparing to orbit the Earth for the first time, potentially ushering in a new era of space flight.
Barring any inclement weather, the Inspiration 4 mission is scheduled to take off tonight—Wednesday Sept. 15—around 8 p.m. EST, when the four-passenger crew will blast off in a SpaceX craft for a three-day orbit mission. The launch raises the tantalizing prospect that one day anyone might be able to board a rocket and fly into space (so long as they can pay for a ticket.) Here's what you can expect with Inspiration 4.
How Can I Watch the Launch?
The launch is set for a five-hour window, starting at 8:02 p.m. EST. You can watch it online through SpaceX’s YouTube channel (embedded above). The current forecast predicts an 80% chance that weather conditions will remain favorable for the launch, which is taking place in Florida. Netflix, which is filming a documentary about the launch, will also be streaming the event on its own YouTube channel.
Why the Hype?
Thanks to NASA, professionally trained astronauts have been going into space for decades now. The Inspiration 4 mission, on the other hand, is made up exclusively of private citizens: Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments; Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Chris Sembroski, a Machine Fault Detection & Diagnostics Lead at Lockheed Martin, and geoscientist Dr. Sian Proctor.
That said, every passenger on Inspiration 4 has been training to prepare for the upcoming flight. Two of the crew members also have piloting experience. Nevertheless, the mission represents SpaceX’s ongoing effort to commercialize space travel to the masses.
“At first, things are very expensive, and it is only through missions like this that we're able to bring the cost down over time and make space accessible to all,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said back in February.
How Did This Mission Come Together?
Crew member Jared Isaacman financed the Inspiration4 Mission, which was originally announced in February. Isaacman also donated three open seats on the flight to members of the public. Two of those seats were filled in partnership with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital to help raise awareness and money for charity. The final spot was awarded through an entrepreneurial competition at Shift4 Payments.
What Will the Crew Be Doing in Space?
Beside enjoying the view, the crew plans on conducting various research experiments into the effects of space travel on the human body. “The crew of Inspiration4 is eager to use our mission to help make a better future for those who will launch in the years and decades to come,” Isaacman said.
How Will They Travel Into Space?
The four crew members will be riding into space on SpaceX Dragon space capsule, which will be strapped to a Falcon 9 reusable rocket. During the launch, the Falcon 9 will detach and fall back to Earth while the Dragon capsule travels on into orbit at 357 miles above the surface. After three days, the capsule will then head back to Earth, and splash down off the coast of Florida.
Does This Differ From Recent Civilian Launches?
This summer, we saw two other space-related launches from the commercial sector. In July, Richard Branson briefly soared over 50 miles above the planet on his Virgin Galactic Unity 22 space plane. Then, in the same month, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos took off into space via a Blue Origin rocket. However, those flights were short and lasted less than an hour. The Inspiration 4 crew, on the other hand, is going to orbit Earth for three days.
What Happens if the Weather Turns Bad?
SpaceX has scheduled a backup launch window for Thursday starting at 8:05 p.m. EST.
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