Technology

SpaceX to Fly First Civilian Crew to Space Later This Year, With Public Competitions for Two Seats

NASA/Bill Ingalls
  • SpaceX will launch four private individuals on a Crew Dragon capsule into orbit around the Earth later this year, dubbed "the world's first all-civilian mission."
  • The company's spacecraft will be commanded by Jared Isaacman, the founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments.
  • The mission, known as Inspiration4, seeks to raise support for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
  • Two seats were given to St. Jude, with one going "to a frontline healthcare worker" and the other to be awarded from a competition of people who donate to a fundraiser for St. Jude.
  • The fourth seat will be decided by a second competition among new and existing customers of Isaacman's Shift4Shop eCommerce platform.

SpaceX announced on Monday that it will launch four private individuals on a Crew Dragon capsule into orbit around the Earth, dubbed "the world's first all-civilian mission." It is scheduled to launch in the fourth quarter of 2021.

The company's spacecraft will be commanded by Jared Isaacman, the founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments. The mission, known as Inspiration4, seeks to raise support for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Isaacman is donating the three accompanying seats on the mission "to crew members who will be selected to represent the mission pillars of leadership, hope, generosity and prosperity," SpaceX said in a press release.

"Inspiration4 is the realization of a lifelong dream and a step towards a future in which anyone can venture out and explore the stars. I appreciate the tremendous responsibility that comes with commanding this mission and I want to use this historic moment to inspire humanity while helping to tackle childhood cancer here on Earth," Isaacman said in a statement.

Inspiration4 mission commander Jared Isaacman
SpaceX
Inspiration4 mission commander Jared Isaacman

Isaacman has given St. Jude two of the seats on the mission, with one "reserved for a St. Jude ambassador with direct ties to the mission." The third and fourth crew seats will be decided by online competitions that run from Feb. 1 to Feb. 28, listed on the Inspiration4 website. The third seat is open to those who donate to St. Jude, while the fourth is open to new and existing customers of Isaacman's Shift4Shop eCommerce platform.

The Inspiration4 crew will undergo training led by SpaceX, in which they will prepare for launch atop one of the company's Falcon 9 rockets. Elon Musk, on a call with reporters after the announcement, noted that the Inspiration4 mission's length of time and other parameters are up to Isaacman.

"If you decide later you want to do a different mission you totally can," Musk said. "You get to go where you want to go. But I think we're nominally assuming it's two to four days, but if you want to go longer that's fine too."

SpaceX plans to use the Crew Dragon spacecraft named Resilience, which is currently docked with the International Space Station having launched the Crew-1 mission for NASA in November. Musk added that NASA has been briefed on the Inspiration4 mission "and is supportive."

Musk's company has announced several private missions in the past few years, including a deal with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to fly on the company's Starship rocket on a trip around the moon in 2023. SpaceX also has space tourism deals with Axiom Space, which aims to fly four people to the International Space Station on a 10-day trip early next year, and Space Adventures, which plans to fly four tourists on a five-day "free-flyer" trip to orbit by 2022.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stands at the base of a Starship rocket prototype at the company's facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
Steve Jurvetson on flickr
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stands at the base of a Starship rocket prototype at the company's facility in Boca Chica, Texas.
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