Here’s what you need to know about the three-day orbital journey of four Americans, none of them professional astronauts.
Sept. 15, 2021Updated 9:36 a.m. ET
When the next SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Kennedy Space Center this week, it’ll be a space mission unlike any that has come before.
There will be four people inside the capsule on top of the rocket, just like the last two SpaceX missions that took NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. But this time, none of the four passengers work for NASA or any other space agency.
This mission, called Inspiration4, is the brainchild of Jared Isaacman, the billionaire founder of Shift4, a company that provides payment processes services. Three other people — none of whom Mr. Isaacman knew before he recruited them for the launch — will join him on a trip that will circle Earth for three days before splashing down off the coast of Florida.
When is the launch and how can I watch it?
A five-hour launch window opens Wednesday at 8:02 p.m. Eastern time. The exact time will depend on the weather. Current forecasts give an 80 percent chance of favorable conditions.
If the flight can’t launch during that five-hour time frame, the crew could try again on Thursday at 8:05 p.m. Eastern time.
Who is Jared Isaacman?
He grew up in New Jersey and dropped out of high school at age 16 to work for a payments processing company. He did obtain a general educational development certificate, or G.E.D.
After half a year, Mr. Isaacman figured out a new way to handle payment processing, and in 1999 he founded his own company in his parents’ basement. That evolved into Shift4 Payments, which went public in June 2020.
Mr. Isaacman started flying as a hobby, learning to pilot advanced aircraft, including military fighter jets. Last year, Mr. Isaacman was discussing an investment in SpaceX when he tried to convince the company’s officials of his enthusiasm by telling them he wanted to buy a trip to orbit someday. That led to conversations that resulted in Mr. Isaacman undertaking the Inspiration4 mission. He will serve as the mission’s commander.
Who are the other crew members?
Hayley Arceneaux, 29, is a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. Almost two decades ago, Ms. Arceneaux, who grew up in the small town of St. Francisville, La., was a patient at St. Jude when bone cancer was diagnosed in her left leg, just above the knee. Ms. Arceneaux went through chemotherapy and an operation to install prosthetic leg bones.
Ms. Arceneaux could become the youngest American ever to travel to orbit. She will also be the first person with a prosthetic body part to go to space. She will be the health officer for the mission.
Sian Proctor, 51, is a community college professor from Tempe, Ariz.
Dr. Proctor, who holds a doctorate in science education, was among 47 finalists whom NASA selected for an astronaut class in 2009. The space agency chose nine new astronauts that year, but Dr. Proctor was not one of them.
She will be the pilot on the Inspiration4 mission, and the first Black woman to serve as the pilot of a spacecraft.
Christopher Sembroski, 42, of Everett, Wash., works in data engineering for Lockheed Martin. During college, Mr. Sembroski had worked as a counselor at Space Camp. He’ll be the mission specialist for Inspiration4.
How are they getting to orbit?
The four crew members of Inspiration4 will be inside a Crew Dragon capsule built by SpaceX. The capsule will launch on top of one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets.
It’s the exact same system that is used to take NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. Indeed, the capsule they are riding in, named Resilience, was used for a NASA mission that launched in November last year. It returned to Earth in May and was refurbished for the Inspiration4 mission.
Where are they going?
Unlike the missions that SpaceX flies for NASA, Inspiration4 is not going to the space station. Instead, the Resilience capsule will orbit Earth for three days at an altitude of about 360 miles. That is about 80 miles higher than the International Space Station.
This flight path makes Inspiration4 more like some of NASA’s Mercury and Gemini missions during the 1960s that preceded the Apollo missions to the moon. It is also reminiscent of space shuttle flights before the construction of the space station.
What is the schedule for Wednesday’s flight?
The launch could occur as early as 8:02 p.m. But the action will begin hours before that.
If the schedule is similar to SpaceX’s earlier NASA astronaut flights, then about three and half hours before the launch, the crew will begin donning their customized SpaceX spacesuits. Once technicians have confirmed the suits are properly fitted, the four astronauts will say goodbye to their families and be transported to the launchpad.
Approximately two and a half hours before the flight — around 5:30 p.m. Eastern time — the crew will board the Crew Dragon capsule. SpaceX technicians will then complete a number of procedures before sealing them inside the spacecraft, a process that could take about an hour.
About 45 minutes before the scheduled launch time, SpaceX will start loading propellent into the rocket and begin making final checks of the spacecraft’s systems and the weather to decide whether it is safe for the mission to launch.
Once the rocket launches, the capsule will begin a series of steps to be lifted to orbit, including separating from the rocket’s first and second stages. In the hour or so that follows, the spacecraft will fire its thrusters, setting it on the course it will follow until the astronauts return to Earth on Saturday.