First all-civilian crew orbits Earth
The cheers at Cape Canaveral kept growing louder as history was made Wednesday evening with SpaceX’s launch of the first all-civilian crew into Earth’s orbit.
It meant nothing less than the start of a new era, a milestone achieved in minutes. After 60 or so years of space travel.
At 5:04 p.m. Pacific time, the four members of the Inspiration4 crew were lifted in their Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket as spectators cheered loudly in Florida, where the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions made history.
On Wednesday, it was SpaceX’s turn.
“Everything continues to be good. It looks like a smooth ride for the crew,” an announcer said at the launch site. The crowd cheered.
Soon the SpaceX craft was a dynamic blurb of light, streaking across the sky, the stuff of sci-fi made real.
The four-member crew was in orbit, a hundred miles higher than the International Space Station for a better view. They gave each other fist bumps in their cabin.
Everything seemed to go according to plan. The first stage did its re-entry and landed successfully on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, testifying to the reusability of Falcon 9 rockets.
The mission is SpaceX’s first private flight. NASA isn’t involved, and that’s the stuff of sci-fi made real.
Sci-fi novelists such as Robert Heinlein predicted that one day, the private sector would handle space operations above Earth and beyond.
The Inspiration4 crew will spend three days orbiting Earth in a mission designed to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Medical Research Hospital. One of the four civilian astronauts — they did train like astronauts, complete with weightlessness in a modified aircraft — is Medical Officer Hayley Arceneaux, a physician’s assistant at the hospital and a pediatric cancer survivor.
Because of the pandemic, St. Jude’s scaled back its launch delegation.
Marlo Thomas — the TV actress who has dedicated her life to promoting St. Jude’s — canceled her trip to Cape Canaveral with her husband, talk show host Phil Donahue. Ms. Thomas’ father, the late TV and movie actor and singer Danny Thomas, founded St. Jude’s, based in Memphis, Tenn.
Ms. Arceneaux, 29, made history as the first person in space with a prosthesis. When she was 10, she was diagnosed with bone cancer, and as a result, a titanium rod replaced much of her left thigh bone.
And Ms. Arceneaux is now the youngest American who has ever gone to space, beating the late Sally Ride’s record. Ms. Ride, the first American woman in space, was, back in 1983, the youngest American in space at age 32.
Inspiration4 is commanded by Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments and a pilot. With him and Ms. Arceneaux are Mission Specialist Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran and aerospace data engineer; and Mission Pilot Dr. Sian Proctor, a geoscientist, entrepreneur and trained pilot.
Mr. Isaacman is a billionaire who loves to fly fighter jets, and he offered one of the seats to St. Jude’s.
After the mission, Inspiration4 will splash down somewhere off the coast of Florida, the stuff of sci-fi made real.