The company will launch the first all-civilian mission to space, transporting four private individuals on a Crew Dragon capsule into orbit around the Earth. The flight will be carried out sometime in the fourth quarter of the year and represents a major step forward for private spaceflight and the budding space tourism industry.
The project is fully funded by Jared Isaacman, an entrepreneur behind the US payment processing startup Shift4Shop, who will be the mission commander. In a statement, he described the venture as “the realization of a lifelong dream” and a “step towards a future in which anyone can venture out and explore the stars. Anyone, that is, with millions of dollars to spend on the ride.
Isaacman and SpaceX dubbed the mission Inspiration4, with the “4” referencing the number of crew members. Isaacman said he wants it to mark a “historic moment to inspire humanity while helping to tackle childhood cancer.” He pledged to donate $100 million to St. Jude hospital as part of a push to raise $200 million more dollars for the organization.
Three other individuals will travel alongside Isaacman on the SpaceX rocket. A seat will be donated to an “ambassador” of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and another one will be given to a member of the public. The fourth is reserved for the winner of a contest of Isaacman’s company, who will have to launch an online store on Shift4Shop platform.
It’s not clear when the winners will be chosen, Isaacman said on a conference call with reporters. Still, crew members would start their training led by SpaceX within 30 days. They will prepare for launch atop one of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets. Musk said the mission’s length of time and other parameters are up to Isaacman.
“When you’ve got a brand-new mode of transportation, you have to have pioneers,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk told NBC. “Things are expensive at first, and as you’re able to increase the launch rate, increase the production rate, refine the technology, it becomes less expensive and accessible to more people.”
The first time a tourist went to space was in 2001 when American multimillionaire Dennis Tito was launched to the International Space Station on an eight-day expedition. Only six other private citizens have flown in space ever since. But the space tourism industry is predicted to expand, with companies such as Space X, Blue Origins, and Virgin Galactic rolling out ambitious plans — and many see it as a fresh start for a new industry.
SpaceX has said over the years that it would be willing to sell seats to tourists on its Crew Dragon capsule, which became operational last year and is mainly used to send NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Musk has even previously expressed interest in joining a SpaceX mission himself. But this won’t happen with this year’s mission with Isaacman, he said.
The company signed a deal in 2018 with billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to fly on the Starship rocket on a trip around the moon in 2023. Last month, it also announced that the first private space station crew, led by former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, will launch to the International Space Station next January. Lopez-Alegria will travel with three men who are each paying $55 million