As Elon Musk's business enters the space tourism arena, SpaceX is ready to launch four people into space on a three-day mission that will be the first to orbit the Earth with solely private citizens on board.
The “Inspiration4” mission brings to a close a summer that saw billionaires, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, in Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin spaceships, respectively, cross the last frontier a few days apart in July.
American billionaire Jared Isaacman, the 38-year-old founder and CEO of payment processing startup Shift4 Payment, has chartered the SpaceX journey. He's also an accomplished pilot.
He hasn't revealed the precise amount he paid SpaceX, but it's in the tens of millions of dollars.
The flight is significantly more ambitious than the few weightless minutes available from Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon will travel beyond the International Space Station's orbit.
In an episode of a Netflix documentary on the trip, Isaacman noted, "The risk is not zero."
“You're riding a rocket around the Earth at 17,500 miles (28,000 kilometers) per hour. There are dangers in that kind of environment.”
SpaceX has already sent ten people to the International Space Station on behalf of NASA, but this will be the first time it transports non-professional astronauts.
The launch will take place on Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time (0000 GMT) from NASA's Kennedy Center in Florida's launch pad 39A, where the Apollo missions to the Moon took off.
‘Are we going to the Moon?'
Three non-public persons were chosen for the expedition, in addition to Isaacman, who is the mission commander, through a process that was originally advertised at the Super Bowl in February.
Each crew member was chosen to represent one of the mission's pillars.
Hayley Arceneaux, the youngest, is a childhood bone cancer survivor who represents "hope."
She will be the first person to travel to space with a prosthetic limb.
When she was handed her spot, she inquired, "Are we going to the Moon?"
“It appears that no one has visited in decades. In the documentary, she laughed and said, "I learned that."
The 29-year-old was chosen because she works as a Physician Assistant for St. Jude's Hospital in Memphis, Inspiration4's philanthropic benefactor.
Chris Sembroski, 42, a former US Air Force veteran who currently works in the aviation sector, was one of the donors who secured the seat of "generosity."
Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old earth science professor who just lost out on becoming a NASA astronaut in 2009, was offered the final seat, which represents "prosperity."
She'll be the fourth African-American woman to travel to space.
Months of preparation
The crew went through months of preparation, which included experiencing high G forces on a centrifuge, a big arm that rotates quickly.
They've also performed a high-altitude, snowy trip on Mount Rainier in the northwest United States, where they experienced weightlessness for a few seconds.
They spent time at the SpaceX base, but the trip will be completely self-contained.
Their sleep, heart rate, blood, and cognitive capacities will be monitored over their three days in orbit.
Before and after the flight, tests will be conducted to determine the trip's impact on their bodies.
The goal is to gather information for future missions with private passengers.
The mission's claimed goal is to make space travel more accessible to more people, while space flight is currently exclusively available to a select few.
“In the entire history of humanity, fewer than 600 humans have reached space,” Isaacman added.
“We are proud that our flight will have an impact on all future travelers.”