SpaceX‘s first all-civilian launch is scheduled to launch on Tuesday (Sept. 14) carrying a message of diversity during the third billionaire-led flight to launch in 2021.
Billionaire Jared Issacman, founder of Shift4 Payments, purchased the flight as part of an effort to raise millions for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He is joined by Haley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski.
Inspiration4 is the third spaceflight by a billionaire in 2021. The other two — both suborbital missions — were the flight of Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and company employees aboard the Unity 22 mission on July 11, and the flight of Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos and three other passengers (including noted aviator Wally Funk) flew aboard a New Shepard spacecraft on July 20.
Like these other two flights, Inspiration4 is largely made up of civilians with no professional space experience, although the crew has undergone basic training to get a sense of what to expect. But this time, the crew will spend three days orbiting the Earth, as opposed to the brief suborbital flights of Bezos and Branson. Learn more about the flight below.
What time is the launch?
Inspiration4 is set to blast off during a 24-hour launch window that opens on Tuesday, Sept. 14, at 8 p.m. EDT (midnight Sept. 15 GMT). In case of weather or other technical delays, a backup 24-hour launch window is available starting Wednesday, Sept. 15, also at 8 p.m. EDT (midnight Sept. 16 GMT). MIssion officials will announce a more exact launch time in the days leading up to the launch.
Typically, launch times are subject to things such as space traffic and the weather at both the launching site and any emergency sites nearby. Like other Crew Dragon launches, Inspiration4 will go to space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. But while other Crew Dragons have flown to the International Space Station, the Inspiration4 mission will not rendezvous with another spacecraft on this orbital mission.
Where is the launch
The launch will take place from NASA’s historic Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 15. SpaceX leases Launch Complex 39A from NASA and has modified the pad for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches.
Pad 39A’s most famous launch was the Apollo 11 debut moon-landing effort of July 1969, but it also was used throughout the Apollo and space shuttle programs for crewed missions. The space shuttle program retired in 2011, and SpaceX signed a 20-year lease for the pad in April 2014.
Spectators wishing to view the launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will need to purchase tickets online in advance. For a list of other good places nearby to watch the launch for free, check out NASA’s launch viewing tips here.
Who is flying on Inspiration4?
Each of the four crewmembers of Inspiration4 was selected to represent one of the “pillars” of support for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital: leadership, hope, generosity and prosperity.
The four crew members of Inspiration4 are:
- Jared Isaacman (“Leadership”), 37, Shift4 Payments founder and CEO. Isaacman also has roughly 6,000 hours accumulated as a private pilot. Isaacman had a lifelong dream of going to space and in media interviews, said he wanted to do so while donating other seats to deserving people. He will serve as the flight’s commander.
- Hayley Arceneaux (“Hope”), 29, a St. Jude physician’s assistant and childhood bone cancer survivor from Louisiana (who was also treated at St. Jude as a child). She was selected to represent the charity for which Isaacman plans to raise money. She will be the first person to fly in space with a prosthetic limb. Isaacman personally invited Arcenaux to join the mission as its chief medical officer.
- Chris Sembroski (“Generosity”), 42, a data engineer for Lockheed Martin from North Carolina. Sembroski is a long-time space enthusiast with amateur experience as an astronomer and a rocketeer. He is a former camp counselor at Space Camp and like many astronauts, is a veteran of the United States Air Force. Sembroski is the winner of a sweepstakes held by Isaacman to raise money for St. Jude. He will serve as a mission specialist.
- Sian Proctor (“Prosperity”), 51, a geoscientist and science communication specialist who has participated in four space analog missions. Proctor was chosen as the winner of the Shift4Shop competition from Isaacman, which asked entrants to set up an e-commerce site and record a video about their business. Proctor’s “Space2Inspire” shop offered postcards and prints of her AfronautSpace art, to spark conversations about women of color in the space industry. Proctor will be the first person from Guam to fly in space, and she will serve as the mission pilot.
What is the mission?
The mission has a dual goal of inspiring and of conducting science in orbit. The Inspiration4 website notes that the spacecraft’s path above Earth will cross over about 90 percent of the world’s population. Additionally, the crew plan to engage in experiments “designed to expand our knowledge of the universe”, with a goal to allocate the “maximum possible mass” to research above what the crew needs to live and survive in space. The science is meant to address projects “that are otherwise unable to overcome the high barriers of traditional space-based research,” the website adds.
Investigators from the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine and investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine will “collect environmental and biomedical data and biological samples from Inspiration4’s four crew members before, during, and after this historic spaceflight,” the release notes.
The experiments are wide-ranging, covering everything from studying the genome, to balance, blood, organs, behavior and much more. The participating scientists also pledge to make all biomedical data open to the public in a repository, for research purposes.
Inspiration4 mission timeline
A detailed timeline for mission activities has yet to be released on the Inspiration4 website, but we do have some clarity about when the official launch time will be figured out, and backup opportunities.
The launch time of Sept. 14 opens at 8 p.m. EDT (or 1200 GMT Sept. 15) and will last for 24 hours, according to Inspiration4 mission updates. A backup opportunity is available for 24 hours starting on Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. EDT (1200 GMT Sept. 16).
“Approximately three days before liftoff, SpaceX will narrow down the launch window to five hours based upon weather conditions at the launch site, along the ascent corridor, and at landing locations off the coasts of Florida for a safe return of the crew and splashdown a few days later,” a Sept. 3 mission update stated.
The splashdown is scheduled three days after the launch, and as with previous Crew Dragon flights, the spacecraft will splash down off the coast of Florida so that the crew and science samples can be swiftly and easily returned to the NASA Kennedy Space Center.
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