CAP CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – SpaceX aimed to send a billionaire into orbit on Wednesday night with its two competition winners and a healthcare worker who survived childhood cancer.
This is Elon Musk’s first SpaceX-chartered passenger flight and a major milestone in space tourism by a private company.
“It blows my mind, honestly,” SpaceX director Benji Reed said on the eve of the launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. “It gives me goosebumps even right now to talk about it.”
The Pennsylvania entrepreneur who foots the bill – Jared Isaacman – won’t say how much he paid. He and his fellow travelers will spend three days orbiting Earth at an unusually high altitude of 357 miles (575 kilometers) – 100 miles (160 kilometers) higher than the International Space Station – before landing off the coast of the Florida coast this weekend.
In July, Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos launched their own rockets to boost ticket sales. Their flights barely traveled through space and lasted only a few minutes.
Isaacman and the others – St. Jude’s medical assistant Hayley Arceneaux and competition winners Chris Sembroski, a data engineer, and Sian Proctor, a community college educator – said on the eve of the launch that they had little or no last minute nervousness. It will be the first time in 60 years of manned flight that no professional astronaut has been aboard a rocket in orbit.
Their fully automated capsule has already been in orbit: it was used for SpaceX’s second astronaut flight for NASA to the space station. The only significant change to the capsule, according to Reed, is the large domed window at the top in place of the usual space station docking mechanisms.
Isaacman – founder of a payment processing company and an accomplished pilot – said Musk assured him that “the entire management team is solely focused on this mission and is very confident.” He added: “Obviously that also gives us a lot of confidence.”
Musk flew out for the launch, as did hundreds of SpaceX employees and representatives from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Isaacman uses the theft to try to raise $ 200 million for St. Jude, half of which came from his own pockets.
While NASA has no role in flight, its managers and astronauts are rooting for flight, dubbed Inspiration4.
“For me, the more people involved, whether private or government, the better,” said NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, who is nearing the end of his six-month stay in the space station.
The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up to become a Founding Member and help shape the next chapter of HuffPost