SpaceX passengers will experience panoramic view of Earth


Inspiration4 mission includes all-new window design

This story was updated Aug. 15 at 8:15 p.m. U.S. Eastern time. 

The SpaceX mission that began moments ago with the launch of a Crew Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral, Florida, will be notable for its passenger manifest of four civilians and also a bold technical innovation in their capsule.

Shortly, the passengers will get to view Earth and space through a cupola, a 2-meter-diameter glass dome, at the top of their Crew Dragon capsule. During liftoff, the cupola was covered by Dragon’s nose cone, but soon on orbit the cone will flip up to give the passengers a panoramic view of Earth and space during their three-day flight.

SpaceX technicians added the cupola to the capsule, named Resilience, after it returned from the International Space Station in May. The flight marks the first time this technology has been flown in space.

The flight is also SpaceX’s first foray into launching space tourists. Just like the Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic flights, aboard are a billionaire and three other passengers, but this flight has some key differences from those led by Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson in July.

For one, Elon Musk isn’t joining Bezos and Branson in the billionaire flyer’s club. The billionaire is Jared Isaacman, CEO of credit card payment company Shift4 Payments. Isaacman funded the flight, paying an undisclosed sum for him and his fellow passengers to ride in the automated capsule as it orbits at an altitude of 575 kilometers for three days. The altitude and length of the mission, dubbed Inspiration4, will be in sharp contrast to the flights of Bezos and Branson, who traveled to the fringes of space for three to four minutes of weightlessness.

Dragon’s automated navigation software will steer the capsule the entire mission, but SpaceX spent several months simulating on-board emergencies in which passenger Sian Proctor, a college professor from Arizona, would override the software and manually control the capsule. The launch from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral marks the fourth time SpaceX has launched humans to space.

Here’s more you need to know about Inspiration4:

Catch the replay: SpaceX began streaming at 3:45 p.m. Eastern U.S. time on its YouTube page. The passengers in their Crew Dragon blasted off from Cape Canaveral atop a Falcon 9 at 8:03 p.m. Eastern U.S. time.

Behind the name: Isaacman named the mission Inspiration4 after the four passengers who inspired $131 million in donations to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, which treats children with life-threatening conditions. Isaacman donated $100 million of those funds, with the rest coming from ongoing donations and a contest earlier this year in which people donated to St. Jude to enter their name into a raffle for one of the Inspiration4 seats. Isaacman is aiming for an additional $70 million in donations by Saturday, when Inspiration4 is scheduled to conclude.

Meet the passengers:

  • Jared Isaacman: the 38-year-old CEO is rated to fly commercial and military aircraft, and in 2019 purchased the MiG-29 Fulcrum jet that belonged to Microsoft and Stratolaunch co-founder Paul Allen. As commander of Inspiration4, Isaacman would be in charge of Crew Dragon in the case of an emergency.
  • Hayley Arceneaux: the 29-year-old physician assistant and former patient at St. Jude is the youngest American to go to space and the first with a prosthetic body part. She was chosen by St. Jude to fill the second Inspiration4 seat, and as chief medical officer will conduct science experiments while on-orbit.
  • Chris Sembroski: the 41-year-old data engineer at Lockheed Martin was gifted the seat by a friend who won the St. Jude sweepstakes. As mission specialist, his responsibilities include seeing to any on-board repairs and assisting Arceneaux with experiments.
  • Sian Proctor: the 51-year-old geoscientist and community college professor from Arizona won a separate contest for the final Inspiration4 seat conducted by Isaacman’s company Shift4. As pilot of Inspiration4, she would override Crew Dragon’s automated navigation software and manually fly the capsule if need be.

 

 

An artist's rendering of the glass dome at the top of a Crew Dragon capsule Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX passengers will experience panoramic view of Earth