It is a modern day adventure. Four American space tourists have embarked on an incredible journey through zero gravity in a SpaceX spacecraft, where they must spend three days orbiting the Earth without a professional astronaut on board, a historic first.
The Falcon 9 rocket took off on time, Wednesday at 8:02 p.m. local time (2:02 a.m. PST Thursday) from the legendary launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with a rumble and a ball. of fire illuminating the night. A few minutes later, the first and then the second stage of the rocket separated, leaving the Dragon capsule and its passengers alone in space.
“Few have been there before and many will follow. The door is opening now, it’s pretty incredible ”mission commander billionaire Jared Isaacman said from inside the capsule, after crossing the boundaries of Earth’s atmosphere.
Fifteen times around the globe a day
They must travel farther than the International Space Station (ISS), in a targeted orbit of 575 kilometers. Each day they will circumnavigate the globe about fifteen times.
Called “Inspiration4”, the mission is supposed to embody the step towards a democratization of Space, proving that the latter is not reserved only for astronaut crews handpicked and trained over the years.
After receiving a visit from Elon Musk, boss of SpaceX and Tesla, the four passengers boarded around 4 p.m. in white Tesla, under the sun and the applause of a small crowd, to reach the building where they then went. put on their custom-made jumpsuit. Then they rejoined the launch pad, got on board, and after a series of systems checks, the capsule hatch was closed.
The mission was chartered by Jared Isaacman, 38, boss of a financial services company and seasoned pilot. The price he paid SpaceX has not been disclosed, but runs into tens of millions of dollars. He occupies the position of captain, and offered three other seats to strangers.
Hayley Arceneaux, a pediatric cancer survivor, is a 29-year-old medical assistant. She is the youngest American to ever go to space, and the first person with a prosthetic (femur). Chris Sembroski, 42, is a former US Air Force employee who now works in the aviation industry. Finally, Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old earth science professor, was almost selected in 2009 to become an astronaut for NASA.
At the end of their journey, these four space tourists will begin a vertiginous descent, to land off Florida. For SpaceX, this is a first step towards a multiplanetary humanity – Elon Musk’s ultimate vision.
On board, their biological data (heart rate, sleep, etc.) as well as their cognitive capacities are analyzed. They also submitted to tests before the trip. Other analyzes will be carried out after their return to Earth, in order to measure the effects of their journey on their body. They will be able to enjoy a spectacular view through a glass dome installed for the first time on Dragon.
Their training only lasted about six months. The flight is expected to remain fully automated, but the crew has been trained by SpaceX to be able to take control in an emergency. To prepare, they also made a trek in the snow up to more than 3000 meters of altitude, and supported the acceleration of a centrifuge (long arm in rapid rotation) and of jet flights.
The mission also serves as a lever for a huge fundraiser for the St. Jude pediatric treatment and research center in Memphis (Tennessee), where Hayley Arceneaux works, who was treated there as a child. In the vessel are various objects (a ukulele, 30 kg of hops intended to make Space-flavored beer on Earth, etc.) which will then be auctioned.
A sector in turmoil
This mission concludes a summer marked by the flight of billionaires over the last frontier: first, Richard Branson on July 11, aboard the Virgin Galactic ship, then, a few days later, Jeff Bezos, with his company Blue Origin.
Tourists have already visited Space: wealthy personalities, for example, visited the International Space Station (ISS) between 2001 and 2009, aboard Russian rockets. But the advent of private enterprise programs today marks a turning point.
“The take-off of Inspiration4 reminds us of what can be accomplished when we partner with private industry”NASA boss Bill Nelson tweeted on Wednesday.
SpaceX has already sent ten astronauts to the ISS on behalf of NASA during three previous manned missions, and is planning further space tourism flights thereafter. The next one in January 2022, with three businessmen on board.
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SpaceX’s first tourists set off on their space cruise