SPACEX’S first private flight streaked into orbit Thursday morning (PH time) with two contest winners, a health care worker and their rich sponsor, the most ambitious leap yet in space tourism.
It was the first time a spacecraft circled Earth with an all-amateur crew and no professional astronauts.
“Punch it, SpaceX!” the flight’s billionaire leader, Jared Isaacman, urged moments before liftoff.
The Dragon capsule’s two men and two women are looking to spend three days going round and round the planet from an unusually high orbit—160 kilometers higher than the International Space Station—before splashing down off the Florida coast this weekend.
It’s SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s first entry in the competition for space tourism dollars.
Isaacman is the third billionaire to launch this summer, following the brief space-skimming flights by Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos in July. Only 38, Isaacman made his fortune from a payment-processing company he started in his teens.
Joining Isaacman on the trip dubbed Inspiration4 is Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a childhood bone cancer survivor who works as a physician assistant where she was treated—St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Isaacman has pledged $100 million out of his own pocket to the hospital and is seeking another $100 million in donations.
Arceneaux became the youngest American in space and the first person in space with a prosthesis, a titanium rod in her left leg.
Also along for the ride: sweepstakes winners Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Everett, Washington, and Sian Proctor, 51, a community college educator in Tempe, Arizona.
Once opposed to space tourism, NASA is now a supporter. “Low-Earth orbit is now more accessible for more people to experience the wonders of space,” tweeted NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, a congressman when he hitched a ride on a space shuttle decades ago.
The recycled Falcon rocket soared from the same Kennedy Space Center pad used by the company’s three previous astronaut flights for NASA. But this time, the Dragon capsule aimed for an altitude of 575 kilometers, just beyond the Hubble Space Telescope.
French astronaut Thomas Pesquet rooted from the space station on Twitter: “No matter if you’re a professional or not, when you get strapped to a rocket and launch into space, we have something in common. All the very best from, well, space.”
Isaacman noted upon reaching orbit that few people have been to space—fewer than 600 over 60 years. But he added, “Many are about to follow. The door’s opening now and it’s pretty incredible.” (AP)