The crew of a SpaceX rocketship who hope to be the first civilians to attempt earth orbit said on Tuesday (September 14) that they feel grateful to be a part of the historic mission, a day ahead of their prospective launch.
The four crew members held a press conference at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, from where the so-called Inspiration4 mission will blast off.
Billionaire entrepreneur, Jared Isaacman, will lead the other three fellow spaceflight novices on a three-day trip from Cape Canaveral to splashdown in the Atlantic.
The 38-year-old tech mogul has paid an unspecified but presumably exorbitant sum for fellow billionaire and SpaceX owner Elon Musk to fly Isaacman and three specially selected travel mates into orbit aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.
The crew vehicle, dubbed Resilience, was set for liftoff atop one of Musk’s reusable Falcon 9 rockets, with a five-hour targeted launch window that opens at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT) on Wednesday.
Once in earth orbit, the vehicle will circle the globe once every 90 minutes at more than 17,000 mph (27,360 kph), or roughly 22 times the speed of sound. The target altitude is 575 kilometers, or nearly 360 miles, beyond the orbits of the International Space Station or even the Hubble Space Telescope.
Isaacman said that while there are some additional risks in going to such a high altitude, it is important to do so for the sake of future missions.
“If we’re going to, you know, go to the moon again and we’re going to go to Mars and beyond, and we got to get a little outside of our comfort zone and take that next step in that direction,” he said.
The so-called Inspiration4 mission was conceived by Isaacman mainly to raise awareness and support for one of his favorite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading pediatric cancer center.
He has pledged $100 million personally to the institute.
The Inspiration4 crew will have no part to play in operating their spacecraft, despite some largely honorary titles, though two, Isaacman and geoscientist Sian Proctor, are licensed pilots.
Isaacman, who is rated to fly commercial and military jets, has assumed the role of mission “commander,” while Proctor, 51, once a NASA astronaut candidate herself, has been designated as the mission “pilot.”
She was selected to join the team through an online contest run by Shift4 Payments.
“There have been three black female astronauts that have made it to space and knowing that I’m going to be the fourth means that I have this opportunity to not only accomplish my dream, but also inspire the next generation of women of color and girls of color and really get them to think about reaching for the stars and what that means,” Proctor said.
Rounding out the crew are “chief medical officer” Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a bone cancer survivor turned St. Jude physicians’ assistant, and mission “specialist” Chris Sembroski, 42, a U.S. Air Force veteran and aerospace data engineer.
Sembroski won a seat in a sweepstake that drew 72,000 applicants and has raised more than $100 million in St. Jude donations.
The four crewmates have spent five months making rigorous preparations, including altitude fitness, centrifuge (G-force), microgravity and simulator training, emergency drills, classroom work and medical exams.
Forecasts on Sunday predicted a 70% chance of favorable weather conditions for launch, organizers said, on a flight directed entirely from the ground.
SpaceX is easily the most well-established player in the burgeoning constellation of commercial rocket ventures.
Rival companies Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin both recently celebrated their debut astro-tourism missions with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, each going along for the ride.