SpaceX on Monday announced plans for the first fully civilian mission to space, a major milestone for private spaceflight and the nascent space tourism industry.
The mission aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft will include a four-person crew led by Jared Isaacman, the founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, a payment processing company based in Pennsylvania. The flight is expected to launch in the fourth quarter of this year, according to SpaceX.
“When you have a whole new mode of transportation, you have to have pioneers,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk told NBC News’s Tom Costello in an interview with NBC Nightly News. “Things are expensive in the beginning, and as you can increase the launch rate, increase the production rate, refine the technology, it becomes less expensive and accessible to more people.”
Private citizens have flown in space before, but these space tourists usually paid to orbit alongside NASA-trained astronauts or Russian cosmonauts. Isaacman’s flight will be the first time an all-private crew has ventured into space. Crew members will undergo training by SpaceX, including mission simulations for emergency preparedness and how to handle orbital mechanics during their flight.
Isaacman said in a statement that the mission, dubbed Inspiration4, is “the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and a step towards a future in which anyone can venture and explore the stars.”
Anyone, that is, with millions of dollars to spend on the ride. SpaceX did not disclose how much Isaacman paid for the flight.
But Musk said he hopes those early rides will lay the groundwork for greater space tourism in the future, beyond the billionaires who are able to afford the flights now.
“It’s like when America went to the moon in 69 – it wasn’t just a few people, mankind went to the moon,” he said. “We’ve all been there with them. And I think it’s something similar here.”
A fully civilian mission is a huge springboard for the private spaceflight industry, but it also presents enormous challenges. Musk said SpaceX’s top priority will be to maximize the safety of the crew.
“Any mission where there is a crew on board makes me nervous,” he said. “The risk is not zero.”
The expedition is part of a charitable initiative to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In addition to donating $ 100 million to St. Jude, Isaacman said he is donating the remaining three seats of the Dragon spacecraft to crew members who will be specially selected for the humanitarian flight.
“I appreciate this enormous responsibility that comes with commanding this mission and I want to use this historic moment to inspire humanity while helping to end childhood cancer here on Earth,” said Isaacman.
The Inspiration4 mission will fly into orbit aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX has launched rockets from Launch Complex 39A since 2017, and the historic platform was previously used for Space Shuttle flights and Saturn V launches during NASA’s Apollo Moon program.
During the multi-day mission, the Dragon capsule will circle Earth every 90 minutes along a custom flight path, according to SpaceX. At the end of the expedition, the spacecraft will return to the planet’s atmosphere and splash off the coast of Florida.
Isaacman, a trained pilot who has flown commercial and military aircraft, will command the historic mission. A seat on the flight is reserved for an ambassador from St. Jude, while a second seat will be offered to a member of the public as part of a charity campaign during the month of February.
For the last place in the theft, Isaacman and Shift4 Payments will select an entrepreneur “who uses the new Shift4Shop e-commerce platform, which enables entrepreneurs to build and grow successful e-commerce businesses online,” the company said. in a press release. The competition kicked off Monday and will run until February 28, with the winner chosen by an independent jury.
Isaacman said the announcement of Inspiration4 flight marked “the first stop on a very exciting journey.”
The first space tourist, US multimillionaire Dennis Tito, flew to the International Space Station on an eight-day expedition in 2001. Tito reportedly paid $ 20 million to fly to the orbiting outpost on board of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Since then, only six other private citizens have flown into space, although the space tourism industry may soon expand as companies such as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origins and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic begin offering more orbital getaways. late this year.
Last month, SpaceX also announced that the first crew of the private space station, led by former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, will launch into the orbiting lab next January. Lopez-Alegria will be joined by three men who each pay $ 55 million to spend eight days at the space station.
In 2018, SpaceX said Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, founder and CEO of fashion retailer Zozo, would be the first private passenger to fly around the moon on a mission scheduled for 2023. Isaacman’s flight is not expected to happen. venture that far. , but Musk joked that SpaceX is open to other routes.
“That’s his mission,” Musk said. “He can go wherever he wants.”