The history of civilian human spaceflight is brief, but SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is going to have to change that if he’s ever going to realize his dream of colonizing Mars. We’re not there yet, but SpaceX is taking a step in that direction announcing the first all-civilian spaceflight. Musk is partnering with Shift4 Payments CEO Jared Isaacman, who will ride the Dragon spacecraft along with three others for the “Inspiration4” flight. This isn’t only another rich person buying his way into space — Inspiration4 could also benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to the tune of a few hundred million dollars.
SpaceX succeeded last year in its quest to deliver a human-rated spacecraft to NASA. The Falcon 9 and Dragon passed all the necessary tests and are now the primary way astronauts reach the International Space Station (ISS). However, the Dragon is a commercial spacecraft, so SpaceX can do whatever it wants with the seats on its own flights. Previously, and space tourism required deals with governments like Russia that were willing to sell access.
The orbital flight, which will last between two and four days, will launch in late 2021, but the companies are wasting no time promoting it. Shift4Payments plans to ramp up the campaign with a Super Bowl ad. Isaacman has committed to donating $100 million to St. Jude as part of the project, and he hopes to use the remaining three seats to raise $200 million more. One of the four is also reserved for an entrepreneur who uses Isaacman’s Shift4Shop e-commerce platform. The rest of the crew will be announced later this year.
Musk says the flight will use a Dragon capsule dubbed “Resilience,” which is currently docked at the ISS. That’s no problem because the Dragon, like the Falcon 9 that launches it, is a reusable vehicle. SpaceX can just ferry it down to Earth, clean it up, and mount it on a Falcon 9 for launch.
SpaceX has long pushed the idea that the public should have access to space, and this isn’t the first demonstration. Inspiration4 sounds like a more restrained version of Yusaku Maezawa’s deal to fly around the moon in a SpaceX Starship. The timeline for that mission is still up in the air, but Maezawa had to cancel his proposed “girlfriend contest” last year after it was pointed out the whole thing was very creepy. He’s still going to the moon at some point, but it won’t be a dating opportunity.
While access to space is expanding, you still need to have a few million lying around to guarantee a trip to the stars. If you’re short on cash, keep an eye on the Inspiration4 announcement. Maybe you’ll have a shot at claiming one of those seats.
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