SpaceX is planning to launch the first all-civilian mission to orbit this year – led by a US billionaire who is paying for the entire flight.
Jared Isaacman, who made a fortune in technology and fighter jets, plans to take three people with him to circle the globe for several days in a Dragon capsule.
The 37-year-old, who will be the spacecraft commander, aims to use the private trip to raise $200m (£146m) for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee – with half coming from his own pockets.
Mr Isaacman – a “space geek” since a young child – has not revealed how much he is paying SpaceX, but said the anticipated donation to St Jude “vastly exceeds the cost of the mission”.
The four crew members will undergo astronaut training on the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and the Dragon before blasting off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center sometime in the fourth quarter of this year at the earliest – in what will be a major milestone for private spaceflight.
At the end of the mission, the Dragon will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere for a soft water landing off the Sunshine State’s coast.
SpaceX said before the journey they “will go through emergency preparedness training, spacesuit and spacecraft ingress and egress exercises, as well as partial and full mission simulations”.
Among the four will be a St Jude health care worker who has already been selected for the mission.
Anyone donating to the hospital in February will be entered into a random draw for the third seat.
The fourth spot will go to a business owner who uses Mr Isaacman’s credit card processing company.
Mr Isaacman and Shift4 Payments will select an entrepreneur “who utilizes the new Shift4Shop eCommerce platform, which empowers entrepreneurs to build and grow successful eCommerce businesses online”, the firm said.
He has bought an advert at next weekend’s Super Bowl to publicise the mission, dubbed Inspiration4, and the three other crew members will be announced next month.
The billionaire, who is described as an accomplished jet pilot, said: “I truly want us to live in a world 50 or 100 years from now where people are jumping in their rockets like the Jetsons and there are families bouncing around on the moon with their kid in a spacesuit.
“I also think if we are going to live in that world, we better conquer childhood cancer along the way.”
SpaceX founder Elon Musk told NBC News: “When you’ve got a brand new mode of transportation, you have to have pioneers.
“Things are expensive at first, and as you’re able to increase the launch rate, increase the production rate, refine the technology, it becomes less expensive and accessible to more people.”
Mr Musk said SpaceX’s top priority will be the crew’s safety.
“Any mission where there’s a crew onboard makes me nervous,” he said. “The risk is not zero.”
Private citizens have flown to space before – but those space tourists typically paid to hitch rides into orbit alongside trained NASA astronauts or Russian cosmonauts.
Three businessmen are paying $55m (£40m) each to fly to the International Space Station next January aboard a SpaceX Dragon with a former NASA astronaut accompanying them.
Mr Isaacman dropped out of high school aged 16, then started a business in his parents’ basement that eventually became Shift4.
He set a speed record flying around the world in 2009 while raising money for the Make-A-Wish programme, and later established Draken International, the world’s largest private fleet of fighter jets.
This Article firstly Publish on news.sky.com