SpaceX’s Inspiration4 amateur astronauts successfully reach orbit

16 Sep 2021

The Inspiration4 crew with the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule. Image: Inspiration4/John Kraus

The Inspiration4 crew is comprised of civilians, including a billionaire, a healthcare worker, a scientist and a US Air Force veteran.

SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission has successfully reached orbit following its launch from NASA’s space facility in Florida. The historic mission is the first to feature a crew entirely comprised of amateur astronauts.

Inspiration4’s civilian crew includes billionaire commander Jared Isaacman, geoscientist Sian Proctor, physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux and engineer and US Air Force veteran Chris Sembroski. All four amateurs trained for six months prior to embarking on the mission, which launched last night (15 September).

SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said the mission was “paving the way for a future where space is more accessible to all who wish to go”.

“We are so proud that they entrusted us to fly them,” Shotwell continued, before thanking the crew and their families on behalf of SpaceX employees.

The launch used SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft, which will spend three days in orbit. It is the company’s first private space flight. Billionaire Isaacman financed the mission with the goal of raising $200m for St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

Arceneaux has a connection with the Tennessee hospital. She was treated for bone cancer there as a child and now works at the facility.

Isaacman was adamant that his mission would go higher than other space travellers. The mission’s target altitude is 575km, which is around 150km above the International Space Station.

“We’ve been going to the Space Station for some time, and there’s just unbelievable science and research and great contributions that are coming out of there,” he said.

“But if we’re going to go to the moon again, and we’re going to go to Mars and beyond, we’ve got to get a little outside of our comfort zone and take that next step in that direction,” Isaacman added, explaining his reason for the ambitious altitude target, which is higher than the Dragon capsule has ever been.

The billionaire made his fortune through payment processing platform Shift4 Payments. It is not known how much exactly he paid for Inspiration4’s mission.

It marks the latest development in space tourism, which is becoming popular among those who can afford it. Billionaire businessmen Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos embarked on space missions of their own recently.

The Crew Dragon has been fitted with a special dome window from which the four astronauts can view the cosmos. Proctor said she plans to paint while admiring the view, having won her seat through her role as an artist and entrepreneur. The science communicator almost became a NASA astronaut in the past but missed out.

Sembroski is a US Air Force veteran and works as an engineer with aerospace company Lockheed Martin. He secured his seat on the spacecraft after a friend asked him to take his place.

Image: Inspiration4/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.