For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The all-civilian Inspiration4 crew launched on a history making first-of-its-kind mission for a picture perfect ride to orbit atop a recycled SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Sept. 15 aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft from Florida’s Space Coast – none of them government or professional astronauts – with the goal of raising awareness and fundraising hundreds of millions of dollars as a charity benefit fortifying childhood cancer science research and patient treatment for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
On September 15 the crew of Inspiration4, the world’s first all-civilian human spaceflight mission launched to orbit at 8:02:56 PM EDT (0002:56 GMT) shortly after sunset Wednesday evening on a now thrice flown SpaceX Falcon 9 from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Inspiration4 mission is ushering in a new era of space exploration opening the door to space to “everyday people” to fly in space – beyond just highly trained government astronauts, qualified scientists and in a very few cases wealthy individuals who could afford the steep price tag of a seat aboard Russian Soyuz capsules.
“Few have come before, and many are about to follow,” Inspiration4 Commander Jared Issacman said from inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft soon after achieving orbit. “The door is now open, and it’s pretty incredible.”
The weather cooperated for a beautiful crystal-clear launch into clear blue skies – in contrast to the drenching rain and thunder that impacted Central Florida most of the past week.
Giant crowds of spectators from across the globe witnessed the launch from packed roads, parks and beaches ringing the Space Coast.
Propellant loading began as planned at T Minus 35 minutes with RP-1 and densified liquid oxygen propellants with the crew already onboard the 215-foot-tall (65-meter) integrated Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft.
All 9 Merlin 1st stage engines ignited right on time at the opening of the 5 hour launch window to generate 1.7 million pounds of liftoff thrust.
Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon roared off pad 39A to cheering crowds everywhere.
The rocket flew along the normal path taken by missions to the ISS at 51 degree inclination along the US East Coast to the North Atlantic Ocean.
The first stage separated two and a half minutes into flight as the 2nd stage ignited to propel Dragon and the crew to orbit
The Crew Dragon capsule was deployed from the Falcon 9 upper stage some 12 minutes after liftoff.
Inspiration4 is the world’s first all civilian mission to low Earth orbit with a crew of four private people.
The history making mission is commanded by billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, the 38-year-old founder and Chief Executive Officer of Shift4 Payments payment processing system who is also an accomplished pilot and adventurer, as well as a high school dropout.
Isaacman personally arranged the flight with SpaceX and CEO Elon Musk and financed the Inspiration4 mission with his own funds and is paying for the seats of the other three private passengers aboard – none of whom knew one another until they were selected in February and March earlier this year.
In addition to Isaacman the crew is comprised of three private U.S. citizens who were either selected by Isaacman or through competitions; 29-year old Hayley Arceneaux, a bone cancer survivor who was treated as a 10 year old at St. Jude and is now a physician’s assistant at the hospital, 51-year old Sian Proctor, a pilot, artist geoscientist, science communicator and finalist in the 2009 astronaut selection process, and 42-year old Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran and aerospace data analyst who works at Lockheed Martin.
Arceneaux is now the youngest American to achieve orbit and the first person in space with a prosthesis – a metal rod in her leg from the bone cancer treatment. She will serve as medical officer of the three-day mission.
“I’m incredibly excited and of course I have the window seat. Looking out the window and seeing Earth from space is going to be so incredible. I can’t even put it into words.” #Inspiration4 Medical Officer @ArceneauxHayley pic.twitter.com/OKqPNWHWPn
— Inspiration4 (@inspiration4x) September 15, 2021
Overall this is the fourth crewed flight for Crew Dragon following three missions for NASA to the ISS starting in May 2021.
“Our crew carries the responsibility and importance of this mission as we prepare to blast off,” said Inspiration4 Commander Jared Isaacman just before launch. “We have been well-prepared for the challenges ahead of us the next three days and look forward to sharing our experience with the world as we continue to bring attention to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital® here on earth.”
“We set out from the start to deliver a very inspiring message about what can be done up in in space and the possibilities there, but also what we can accomplish here on Earth,” Isaacman said in a press conference before launch.
Isaacman personally donated $100 million to St. Jude and the mission hopes to raise another $100 million in donations.
The four-person crew will spend three days in orbit after liftoff but will not be docking to the International Space Station (ISS).
Several science experiments are planned.
“I’m so excited about the medical research that we’re going to be doing on this flight,” Arceneaux said at a prelaunch press conference. “We’re going to be collecting a lot of swabs to learn about the microbiome, how that changes in flight. We’re going to be performing ultrasounds to evaluate for fluid shifts, as well as performing some cognitive tests, and studying radiation effects of going to our high altitude.”
— Inspiration4 (@inspiration4x) September 15, 2021
Therefore there were virtually no constraints on when the Falcon 9 can launch and it was not limited to a small or single instantaneous launch window – hence the 5 hour spread.
They flew aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience – which has flown once before on the Crew-1 mission for NASA to the ISS.
Falcon 9 planned to deliver Crew Dragon and the Inspiration4 crew to an altitude of about a 357-mile-high orbit (570 km), roughly 100 miles (160 km) above the ISS orbit.
In fact the all-civilian 4 person crew reached circular orbit of 585km (363 mi) – a new Dragon altitude record!
Since Dragon is not docking to the ISS SpaceX removed the docking system and replaced it with a three-layer plexiglass domed cupola to offer an unimpeded and spectacular 360 degree panoramic view out the top of the spacecraft of the Earth and space after the nose cone unlatches and opens.
The Dragon cupola is flying for the first time and SpaceX tweeted this image – which shows a more curvatured & stunning view of Earth from the SpaceX CrewDragon
View from Dragon’s cupola pic.twitter.com/Z2qwKZR2lK
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 16, 2021
Furthermore the crew is flying higher than any humans have flown since NASA’s final shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009 on STS-125.
The ‘flight proven’ Falcon 9 1st stage booster B1062 has flown twice before on a pair of GPS satellite delivery missions to orbit for the U.S. Space Force.
The booster again nailed a successful landing on the Just Read the Instructions (JRTI) droneship some eight minutes after liftoff and will be reflown on a future mission.
Falcon 9’s first stage booster has landed on the Just Read the Instructions droneship!
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 16, 2021
Check out our photos of the launch and prelaunch periods at the pad and KSC press site of the rather sooty rocket and Crew Dragon taken at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and Playalinda Beach taken by the Space UpClose team of Ken Kremer and Jean Wright.
The adventures of the eclectic crew are being documented in a multipart series currently airing on Netflix about the mission, called “Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space.”
The four crew members represent the four mission pillars of leadership, hope, generosity and prosperity – each with a seat on the mission.
Isaacman represents leadership as the mission command and benefactor.
SpaceX provided four hours of live coverage leading up to liftoff. But the broadcast ended after the crew achieved orbit and there have been no pictures of the crew since then.
SpaceX says there will be some limited video and hopefully that happens since a primary goal is to motivate children and the public about science and space – as well as to raise lots of money to fund St. Jude cancer research and treatments .
This situation with a lake of updates is very unlike NASA missions which offer extensive video coverage from the ISS crews in orbit
Here is the flight profile of Inspiration4 from SpaceX
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 15, 2021
The mission will conclude after about three days and over 50 orbits with a splashdown off the coast of Florida either in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean – depending on the weather.
My commentary and analysis about Inspiration4 has been featured in several stories on WKMG CBS News Orlando and WFTV ABC News Orlando on Sep 13, 14 and 15.
Ken and Jean are onsite at KSC for live reporting of the Inspiration4 mission.
Watch Ken’s continuing reports about SpaceX Crew and Cargo Dragons, Artemis and NASA missions, SLS, Orion, SpaceX Starlink, Commercial Crew and Starliner and Crew Dragon and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Crew 1 & 2, ISS, Solar Orbiter, Mars 2020 Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, NRO spysats and national security missions and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com
Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
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