Elon Musk’s SpaceX has announced it plans on sending the first all-civilian crew to space sometime later this year. The mission, dubbed Inspiration4, is a charity-focused trip led by finance company executive and pilot Jared Isaacman, the founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, to raise awareness of the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
Isaacman, who has financed the entire four-person mission, is donating the three accompanying seats on the mission “to crew members who will be selected to represent the mission pillars of leadership, hope, generosity and prosperity,” SpaceX said in a press release.
According to Issacman, one of those seats has already been allocated to a female health care worker at St. Jude’s while another has been assigned to a St Jude front-line healthcare worker who is "committed to helping kids beat cancer."
The fourth crew seat is still up for grabs and will be selected by way of a raffle. Any adult US citizen who donates to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital during the month of February will automatically be entered into a random draw for the seat.
Inspiration4 will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida no earlier than the fourth quarter of this year and will spend two to five days in orbit, though “the mission parameters are up to Jared,” Musk said. The Dragon Capsule will then reenter Earth’s atmosphere for a soft water landing off the coast of Florida.
The crew will prepare for the flight by undergoing commercial astronaut training from SpaceX on the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft. This includes training in orbital mechanics, operating in microgravity, zero gravity, and other forms of stress testing.
In addition, they will go through emergency preparedness training, spacesuit and spacecraft ingress and egress exercises, as well as partial and full mission simulations, say SpaceX in a statement.
Although yet to go into space, Isaacman is no stranger to flying. He broke the world record for circumnavigating the world in 61 hours 51 minutes and 15 seconds in 2009 while raising money for the Make-A-Wish programme.
He is also co-founder of Draken International, the world’s largest private air force which trains pilots for the United States military. Isaacman sold a majority stake in Draken to Wall Street firm Blackstone in 2019 for a nine-figure sum.
For Isaacman, Inspiration4 is the realisation of a lifelong dream said the accomplished pilot and “a step towards a future in which anyone can venture out and explore the stars.”
“I appreciate the tremendous responsibility that comes with commanding this mission, and I want to use this historic moment to inspire humanity while helping to tackle childhood cancer here on Earth,” says Isaacman.
Now worth an estimated $2.1 billion, the entrepreneur made a start on his fortune from Shift4, a business he started in his parent’s basement after he dropped out of school aged 16.
Shift4 handles payments for a third of America's restaurants and hotels; Isaacman took it public in June 2020 and owns 38 percent of the stock.
Inspiration4 is a far-cry from the other recently announced commercial flight - Ax-1 – that will also fly on a SpaceX rocket.
Although both missions are touted as “an important milestone toward enabling access to space for everyone,” Isaacman is shouldering the expense himself while also hoping to raise $200 million (£146 million) for the hospital.
“If we’re going to continue making advances up there in space, then we have an obligation to do the same down here on Earth,” Isaacman told reporters on Monday.