SpaceX launches first all-civilian crew into orbit

The latest in a recent line of space-obsessed billionaires was set for liftoff on Wednesday with three less wealthy private citizens along for the ride aboard a SpaceX rocket ship, seeking to become the first all-civilian crew launched into Earth orbit.

The quartet of amateur space travelers, led by the American founder and chief executive of e-commerce firm Shift4 Payments Inc, Jared Isaacman, were due for blastoff as early as 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

SpaceX’s senior director of human spaceflight, Benji Reed, told reporters at the Cape on Tuesday that “everything looked great” following a final “static” test-firing of the rocket engines on Monday morning.

“Right now the weather is trending well” for an on-time launch, he said.

The flight, with no professional astronauts accompanying SpaceX’s paying customers, is expected to last about three days from liftoff to splashdown in the Atlantic.

They will fly aboard a gleaming white SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, perched atop one of the company’s reusable Falcon 9 rockets and fitted with a special observation dome in place of the usual docking hatch.

Isaacman, 38, the trip’s benefactor, has forked over an undisclosed but presumably hefty sum to fellow billionaire and SpaceX owner Elon Musk to send himself and his three crewmates aloft. Time magazine has put the ticket price for all four seats at $200 million.

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 in Memphis, Tennessee.

It marks the debut flight of Musk’s new orbital tourism business, and a leap ahead of competitors likewise offering rides on rocket ships to well-heeled customers willing to pay a small fortune for the exhilaration, and bragging rights, of spaceflight.

Inspiration4 is aiming for an orbital altitude of 360 miles (575 km) above Earth, higher than the International Space Station or Hubble Space Telescope. At that height, the Crew Dragon will circle the globe once every 90 minutes at a speed of some 17,000 miles per hour (27,360 kph), or roughly 22 times the speed of sound.

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