SpaceX inspiration4 all-civilian spaceflight: When to watch and things to know

Inspiration4 mission, which is the world’s first all-civilian mission to Earth’s orbit, will carry four private citizens to space and aims to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Crew of the Inpiration4 (Image credit: Inspiration4)
Crew of the Inpiration4 (Image credit: Inspiration4)

On September 15, four civilians will blast off into space as part of the Inspiration4 mission of SpaceX and NASA.

The mission, called Inspiration4, includes four private citizens who will fly on a Crew Dragon spacecraft for an Earth-orbiting mission.

Inspiration4 is the third spaceflight by a billionaire in 2021. The other two — both suborbital missions — were the flight of Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and company employees aboard the Unity 22 mission on July 11, and the flight of Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos and three other passengers (including noted aviator Wally Funk) flew aboard a New Shepard spacecraft on July 20.

Like these other two flights, Inspiration4 is largely made up of civilians with no professional space experience, although the crew has undergone basic training to get a sense of what to expect. But this time, the crew will spend three days orbiting the Earth, as opposed to the brief suborbital flights of Bezos and Branson. Learn more about the flight below.

Billionaire Jared Issacman, the founder of Shift4 Payments, purchased the flight as part of an effort to raise millions for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He is joined by Haley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor, and Chris Sembroski.

Meet the crew

  • Jared Isaacman (“Leadership”), 37, Shift4 Payments founder and CEO. Isaacman also has roughly 6,000 hours accumulated as a private pilot. Isaacman had a lifelong dream of going to space and in media interviews, said he wanted to do so while donating other seats to deserving people. He will serve as the flight’s commander.
jared isaacman(credit: inpiration4)
Jared Isaacman(Imgae credit: Fastcompany)
  • Hayley Arceneaux (“Hope”), 29, is a St. Jude physician’s assistant and childhood bone cancer survivor from Louisiana (who was also treated at St. Jude as a child). She was selected to represent the charity for which Isaacman plans to raise money. She will be the first person to fly in space with a prosthetic limb. Isaacman personally invited Arcenaux to join the mission as its chief medical officer.
Hayley Arceneaux
Hayley Arceneaux(Image credit: New York Times)
  • Chris Sembroski (“Generosity”), 42, is a data engineer for Lockheed Martin from North Carolina. Sembroski is a long-time space enthusiast with amateur experience as an astronomer and a rocketeer. He is a former camp counselor at Space Camp and like many astronauts, is a veteran of the United States Air Force. Sembroski is the winner of a sweepstakes held by Isaacman to raise money for St. Jude. He will serve as a mission specialist.
Chris Sembroski(Image credit Wikibio)
Chris Sembroski(Image credit Wikibio)
  • Sian Proctor (“Prosperity”), 51, is a geoscientist and science communication specialist who has participated in four space analog missions. Proctor was chosen as the winner of the Shift4Shop competition from Isaacman, which asked entrants to set up an e-commerce site and record a video about their business. Proctor’s “Space2Inspire” shop offered postcards and prints of her AfronautSpace art, to spark conversations about women of color in the space industry. Proctor will be the first person from Guam to fly in space, and she will serve as the mission pilot.
Sian Proctor(Image credit: Wikipedia)

Fundraising efforts

The Inspiration4 mission is part of an effort to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Isaacman didn’t want just another billionaire spaceflight on the books, he wanted the mission to really mean something, so he led a campaign to raise money and awareness for childhood cancer research.

Isaacman donated $100 million directly to St. Jude, as well as two of the other seats on the Dragon spacecraft. One went to Arceneaux, whom the hospital selected as a frontline worker. The other seat was designated to a winner randomly chosen from sweepstakes entries that raised $13 million for the cancer institute. Sembroski was selected after a friend of his (who was technically chosen) decided not to go to space.

Proctor won her seat through a “Shark Tank”-like contest that set up online stores using Isaacman’s Shift4 Payments platform as a way to raise money for St. Jude. Each contestant had to set up a shop and campaign on Twitter. The more interaction their videos received on Twitter, the more likely they were to make it to the finals.

Which Rocket And Spacecraft Will Be Used For Inspiration4 Mission?

The Crew Dragon spacecraft will be launched atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which is a reusable, two-stage rocket, designed for the reliable and safe transport of people and payloads into Earth and beyond. This is the world’s first orbital-class reusable rocket, which means it is a reusable rocket powerful enough to launch objects into orbit around Earth, or even beyond, depending upon the size of the payload.

SpaceX crew dragon on top of Falon 9 rocket

The Dragon spacecraft, which will carry the crew, can ferry up to seven passengers to and from Earth orbit, and beyond. In May 2020, it became the first private spacecraft to take humans to the International Space Station.

Crew Dragon will travel at more than 17,000 miles per hour, and the astronauts will conduct experiments to expand our knowledge of the universe. The cargo consists of crew essentials as well as scientific equipment designed for microgravity research and experimentation, which together weigh 365 pounds.

The design of the dome window of the Crew Dragon Spacecraft is inspired by the Cupola, which is an observatory module built by the European Space Agency, on the International Space Station.

SpaceX dragon with the glass cupola in orbit
SpaceX dragon with the glass cupola in orbit

What will the crew be doing?

Because the Inspiration4 mission consists entirely of regular people, not professional astronauts, they have not undergone the same rigorous medical disqualification process that NASA and other agencies follow during astronaut selection. So throughout the mission, the Inspiration4 crew members will perform a variety of medical experiments and record health data to support future human spaceflights.

Inpiration4 crew
Inpiration4 crew

What Is The Purpose Of The Mission?

Inspiration4 is meant to conduct valuable research, and inspire projects that otherwise can’t overcome the high barriers of traditional space-based research, by providing access to space.

By raising funds and awareness for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the mission believes, the crew will represent a new era for human spaceflight and exploration.

What will they take with them?

Since Inspiration4 is part of a massive fundraising effort, the crew will be taking items up with them to be auctioned off, as well as personal items.

Some of those items include mission jackets featuring artwork made by St. Jude patients, a Fisher Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Space Pen and Coin Set containing a piece of material from Apollo 11, a ukulele from Martin Guitar that Chris Sembroski will play in space, and much more, according to a mission statement.

In addition, Arceneaux will play a non-fungible token, or NFT, of a never-before-released performance by the band Kings of Leon during the flight. Another NFT onboard will replicate a piece of art that previously went to the Mariana Trench, making it the first artwork to reach both the deepest part of the ocean and orbit.

What will the crew be doing?

Because the Inspiration4 mission consists entirely of regular people, not professional astronauts, they have not undergone the same rigorous medical disqualification process that NASA and other agencies follow during astronaut selection. So throughout the mission, the Inspiration4 crew members will perform a variety of medical experiments and record health data to support future human spaceflights.

Mission timeline

A detailed timeline for mission activities has yet to be released on the Inspiration4 website, but we do have some clarity about when the official launch time will be figured out, and backup opportunities.

The launch time of Sept. 15 opens at 8 p.m. EDT (or 1200 GMT Sept. 16) and will last for 24 hours, according to Inspiration4 mission updates.

“Approximately three days before liftoff, SpaceX will narrow down the launch window to five hours based upon weather conditions at the launch site, along the ascent corridor, and at landing locations off the coasts of Florida for a safe return of the crew and splashdown a few days later,” a Sept. 3 mission update stated.

The splashdown is scheduled three days after the launch, and as with previous Crew Dragon flights, the spacecraft will splash down off the coast of Florida so that the crew and science samples can be swiftly and easily returned to the NASA Kennedy Space Center.

The live event will be streamed on SpaceX YouTube channel

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Aditya Krishnan Mohan

Aditya Krishnan Mohan

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I write about the latest tech, space tech, rockets and computer programming.