Elon Musk’s SpaceX is set to lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on September 15 with an all-civilian crew for the first time. These four people had never been to space, and they spent six months training for it. The mission, called Inspiration4, is trying to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Tech billionaire Jared Isaacman is funding Inspiration4 and will serve as commander. He’s an experienced pilot who used to fly fighter jets in stunt shows, says Mike Wall, senior writer for Space.com.
Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old physician assistant at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, is also part of the crew. As a child, she was treated at St. Jude for bone cancer. She’ll be the first person in space with a prosthesis, which she has in her leg.
The team will be on an automated vehicle, so they don’t have to do much driving, says Wall.
“They shouldn't really have to do anything … unless something really goes wrong, which you don't expect because SpaceX is a very capable company and has done a lot of this stuff before. But still, theoretically, it is a little scary to have nobody in the driver's seat who is like an experienced kind of astronaut.”
He says the team will fly about 200 miles higher than Earth orbit, “zoom around solo for about three days,” and then return.
The cost for all this is an estimated $15 million per seat, though SpaceX and Isaacman haven’t released the details of their contract, explains Wall. “You're looking at maybe $200 million out of pocket for Jared Isaacman, and he's also donated like $100 million straight to the research hospital of his own money.”
Aside from raising money for the hospital, the point of the mission is to show the possibility of civilian spaceflight.
“This is a step toward a future where hopefully, something like this will be a little more available. … If you look at what SpaceX is doing with its next-generation spaceship … that might be the real game changer, where people actually can do some of this stuff, and you don't have to be a billionaire to do it. That's their giant spaceship that's like 300 feet tall and it's going to hopefully make Mars colonization feasible. … That's only a few years down the road maybe from being operational.”