SpaceX launches its first private crewed mission to space

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 SpaceX launched four private citizens into space on Wednesday, kicking off the first-ever crewed mission into orbit without any professional astronauts on board. Dubbed Inspiration 4, the mission marks the latest private foray into space as companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX compete to normalize space travel for paying tourists, not just government astronauts.

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SpaceX launches its first private crewed mission to space--credit:cbsnews

SpaceX launches its first private crewed mission to space

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket took off from the company's 39A launchpad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center at 8:02 p.m. ET, taking off in the night sky off the east coast of Florida. Inside the capsule are billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, a trained pilot and founder of payment-processing firm Shift4Payments, and three other people he selected and paid to ride with him: Hayley Arsinaux, a 29-year-old medical assistant and cancer Survivor; Christopher Sambrowski, data engineer at Lockheed Martin; and Sean Proctor, a geologist and former NASA astronaut candidate.

"Dragon capsule and crew are in a nominal orbit"

The crew was bundled inside SpaceX's Crew Dragon Resilience capsule on top of the rocket, reusing the spacecraft that sent four government astronauts to the International Space Station nearly a year ago. But for the Inspire 4, the capsule will not dock at the space station. It is set to spend nearly three days orbiting Earth at an altitude of about 360 miles above the ground since NASA's last spacecraft mission to repair the Hubble Telescope in 2009.

About nine minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9's first stage booster returned to Earth to land on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean. A few minutes later, the Crew Dragon capsule separated from the rocket's second stage as it was leaving Earth's atmosphere, sending the Inspire 4 crew further toward orbit. The capsule will slowly raise its orbit through intermittent thruster firing over the next hour and a half.

"The Dragon capsule and crew are in nominal orbit," said Andy Tran, SpaceX engineer and livestream anchor. A live camera from inside the capsule showed the crew waving and giving double thumbs up.

The mission serves as a multimillion-dollar fundraiser for St. Jude Children's Hospital, a non-profit research center that also provides free care for children with cancer. Isaacman donated $100 million to the hospital and, with the Inspiration4 mission, aims to raise another $100 million. That portion of the fundraiser has raised about $30.8 million so far. Isaacman, who is controlling most of the mission, wouldn't say how much he paid for each Crew Dragon seat, but they typically cost them about $55 million a pop, according to government surveillance reports.

Inspiration 4's Crew Dragon capsule was designed to be a more touristy experience than NASA astronauts' visits to the ISS. Months before the mission, SpaceX installed a giant glass dome where the capsule's station docking door would normally be, giving the Inspiration 4 passengers a 360-degree view of space while in orbit. Although the glass dome has not been tested in space, Benji Reid, SpaceX's director of crew mission management, said it was put through a rigorous testing and qualification process before being deemed safe for flight.

The exit from SpaceX's Falcon 9 is illuminated by the Sun just after liftoff, which occurs less than an hour after sunset. Joy Roulette/The Verge

The crew has some activities planned while they are in orbit – Sambrowski is expected to play a guitar made by Martin Guitar that is placed onboard as one of the many sponsors riding for the mission. Proctor brought along poetry and some personal art. And the whole team is participating in a study on the effects of microgravity on the human body. Investigators from SpaceX, the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medicine will collect biological samples from the passengers before the mission and plan to collect biomedical data on the passengers during the mission.

Where and when the capsule re-enters Earth's atmosphere after its three-day mission depends on weather conditions around the coast of Florida. Isaacman said the capsule could spend up to a week in orbit if needed.

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