September 12 (Reuters) – Another billionaire entrepreneur will fly into space in the capsule of a SpaceX rocket this week as part of an astro-tourist team ready to be the first all-civilian crew to hit Earth Writing history Orbit.
Jared Isaacman, the American founder and CEO of the e-commerce company Shift4 Payments (FOUR.N), will lead three other space beginners on an expected three-day journey from the explosion in Cape Canaveral, Florida to the crash in the Atlantic.
The 38-year-old tech mogul donated an unspecified but presumably exorbitant sum to billionaire SpaceX owner Elon Musk to put Isaacman and three specially selected travel companions into orbit aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.
The crew vehicle is destined for explosives from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on one of Musk’s reusable Falcon 9 rockets, with a 24-hour launch window that opens Wednesday at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT). This window will be narrowed or possibly changed a few days in advance depending on the weather.
Named Inspiration4, the orbital excursion was designed by Isaacman primarily to raise awareness and support for one of his favorite subjects, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a premier center for childhood cancer. He personally pledged $ 100 million to the institute.
But a successful mission would also help usher in a new era of commercial space tourism, with multiple companies vying for wealthy customers willing to pay a small fortune to experience the frenzy of supersonic flight, weightlessness, and the visual spectacle of space to experience.
Establishing acceptable levels of consumer risk in the inherently dangerous venture of rocket travel is also vital and raises a clear question.
“Do you now have to be both rich and brave to get on those flights?” Sridhar Tayur, professor of operations management and new business models at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said in an interview with Reuters on Friday.
BEYOND THE MILLIONAIRE SPACE RACE
SpaceX is by far the most established player in the burgeoning constellation of commercial rocket companies that has already brought numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA.
Rivals Virgin Galactic (SPCE.N) and Blue Origin both recently celebrated their first astro-tourism missions with their respective founding managers – billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos – each on board.
But those two high-profile flights were suborbital, sending their crews of civil astronauts into space and back in minutes.
The SpaceX flight is intended to take its four passengers to a place where no purely civilian crew has been before – into orbit.
There they will circle the globe once every 90 minutes at more than 17,000 kilometers per hour or around 22 times the speed of sound. The target altitude is 575 kilometers, or nearly 360 miles, beyond the orbits of the International Space Station or even the Hubble Space Telescope.
Like Blue Origin, the 20-story SpaceX launcher and crew capsule will take off vertically from a launch pad in a full-ground flight.
In contrast, Branson’s suborbital missile plane had two well-trained pilots at the controls while it carried its four passengers in the back seats 80 miles into the air.
The Inspiration4 crew, despite some largely honorary degrees, won’t play a role in the operation of their spacecraft, even though two members – Isaacman and geoscientist Sian Proctor – are licensed pilots.
Isaacman, who is licensed to fly commercial and military jets, has assumed the role of mission “commander” while Proctor, 51, once a NASA astronaut candidate himself, has been called the mission “pilot”. She was selected to join the team through an online competition held by Shift4 Payments.
Rounding out the crew is Chief Medical Officer Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a bone cancer survivor who became St. Jude’s medical assistant, and Mission Specialist Chris Sembroski, 42, a veteran in the US Air Force and Aerospace data engineer. He won a seat in a competition that attracted 72,000 applicants and raised over $ 100 million in St. Jude donations.
The four crew members have spent the past five months undergoing rigorous preparations including altitude fitness, centrifuge (G-Force), microgravity and simulator training, emergency drills, classroom work, and medical exams.
Inspiration4 officials emphasize that the mission is more than a joyride. In orbit, the crew will conduct medical experiments with “potential applications for human health on Earth and in future space travel,” the group said in its press materials.
In a commercial for a Netflix documentary series (NFLX.O) about the mission, Arceneaux said a large part of her motivation was to instill hope in her cancer patients.
“I’m going to show you what life can be like after cancer,” she said.
Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, editing by Rosalba O’Brien
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