History could be made on Wednesday, September 15, as four civilians prepare to launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for a three-day mission to low Earth orbit. You can watch the action live right here.
Earlier this year, both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin sent all-civilian crews to the edge of space. It’s now time for the next giant leap, with SpaceX preparing to send an all-civilian crew to Earth orbit. That’s never happened before, as every previous crewed trek to orbit has included at least one government-employed professional astronaut.
The five-hour launch window opens today at 8:02 p.m. EDT (Thursday, September 16 at 00:02 UTC). The all-civilian crew of four—Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor, and Chris Sembroski—will sit inside a specially modified SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. A reusable Falcon 9 rocket will blast off from Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, taking the crew to low Earth orbit.
You can watch the launch at SpaceX, but you’re welcome to hang out here and watch the livestream provided below. The webcast is scheduled to begin at 3:45 p.m. EDT (7:45 p.m. UTC), which is 4 hours and 15 minutes before liftoff.
There’s a 70% chance that weather conditions will be favorable for today’s launch. Should it be scrubbed for whatever reason, SpaceX will try again tomorrow (Thursday, September 16) at the same time.
A Netflix-produced warm-up show will begin at 7:00 p.m. EDT (11:00 p.m. UTC). The live YouTube special is being hosted by Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown and journalist Soledad O’Brien, and it’ll feature a host of celebrity appearances. The ongoing Netflix series Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space has been following the training of the crew, with episodes one through four already streaming. The fifth and final installment will premiere in late September.
Isaacman, the billionaire founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, will command the mission, while Proctor, a geoscience teacher, will serve as pilot. Arceneaux, a pediatric cancer survivor, will be the first person to go to space with a prosthetic body part and the youngest American to orbit Earth. Sembroski is an Air Force veteran and aerospace engineer. Operation of the Crew Dragon is autonomous, so the crew won’t be expected to do any actual piloting.
SpaceX is aiming to deliver the Crew Dragon to an altitude of 357 miles (575 km), which is higher than both the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station. The crew will view Earth from the Dragon Cupola—the “largest contiguous space window ever flown,” according to SpaceX. The Elon Musk-led company says the three-layer observation dome was “extensively tested and qualified for flight” and it replaces the mechanism used by Crew Dragon for docking to the ISS.
In addition to looking out the window and experiencing weightlessness, the crew will perform a number of health-related scientific experiments. Once the three-day trip to space is over, the Crew Dragon will perform a re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere and make a parachute-assisted splashdown at one of several possible locations along Florida’s east coast.
A major goal of the Inspiration4 mission is to raise $200 million for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and that’s undeniably a great cause. For SpaceX, however, the mission represents its first foray into space tourism, in which some seriously big money is up for grabs. Isaacman paid an undisclosed amount for all four seats (Arceneaux was handpicked by Isaacman, and both Proctor and Sembroski won contests to take part). SpaceX will reportedly charge $50 million per seat for future private missions.
I’m very much looking forward to following today’s scheduled launch and the events of the coming three days, but at no point will I kid myself into believing the naive narrative that’s floating around this mission—that trips to space will soon be available to the rest of us.