Science

SpaceX’s first space tourists ready to take off on Wednesday

Can four humans who have never been in space before spend three days alone orbiting the Earth, having trained for only a few months? This is the challenge for SpaceX, whose first space tourism mission is to take off on Wednesday night.

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Called Inspiration4, it is the first in history to send only rookies into orbit, without any professional astronauts on board.

Takeoff should take place at 8:02 pm with a five-hour launch window and favorable weather for the time being. The Falcon 9 rocket, which carries the Dragon capsule on its top, will be propelled from the legendary Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Center in Florida, from where the Apollo 11 mission took off to the Moon.

The four Americans on board must travel beyond the International Space Station (ISS), to a target orbit of 575 km. Every day they will go around the world about 15 times.

At the end of their journey, they will begin a dizzying descent to land in front of Florida, held back by huge parachutes.

The mission was hired by billionaire Jared Isaacman, 38, head of a financial services company and experienced pilot. The price it paid to SpaceX has not been disclosed, but it runs into the tens of millions of dollars. He will be the captain on board and will offer three more seats to strangers.

The passengers

Hayley Arceneaux, a pediatric cancer survivor, is a 29-year-old medical assistant. She will be the youngest American to enter orbit and the first person with a prosthesis (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, had almost been selected in 2009 to become a NASA astronaut. She will only be the fourth African American woman to go into space.

The stated goal: to represent a turning point in the democratization of space, demonstrating that the cosmos is also accessible to people who have not been selected and trained for many years as astronauts. For SpaceX, this is nothing less than a first step toward multi-planetary humanity – Elon Musk’s ultimate vision.

“We realize how lucky we are, and we try to be very thoughtful in our approach, in order to set the standard for missions to follow,” Jared Isaacman said at a conference Tuesday. “It is just beginning.”

On board your biological data (heart rate, sleep, etc.) as well as your cognitive abilities will be analyzed. They will also undergo tests before and after the trip, to measure the effect on their bodies.

His training only lasted about six months. The flight would normally remain fully automated, but the crew has been trained by SpaceX to be able to take control in the event of an emergency.

They were also physically tested. Together, they walked through snow to more than 3,000 meters above sea level in the northwestern United States, and experienced the G-force to which they will be exposed through a centrifuge (long arm that rotates rapidly) and flights to reaction.

The mission also serves as a large fundraiser for St Jude Children’s Hospital (Memphis, Tennessee), where Hayley Arceneaux now works after being treated there as a child. In the container there will be several objects (a ukulele, 30 kg of hops destined to make beer with space flavor on Earth, digitally certified NFT works, etc.) that will then be auctioned.

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. But these flights only offered a few minutes in zero gravity.

This is the fourth time that Elon Musk’s company, which in just a few years has become a giant in the sector, has sent humans into space, after having transported 10 astronauts to the ISS on behalf of NASA.

There have already been tourists in space: wealthy personalities, for example, visited the ISS between 2001 and 2009, aboard Russian rockets.

But the advent of private company programs today marks a turning point. Subsequently, SpaceX plans other space tourism flights, including one from January 2022, which will transport three businessmen in particular to the ISS.

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