SpaceX successfully launches astronaut crew with a difference
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SpaceX's first private flight successfully took off on Wednesday night with civilians, a healthcare worker and their rich sponsor, the most ambitious leap yet in space tourism.
The significance of this moment is that for the first time, a rocket orbited with an all-amateur crew with no professional astronauts. None of the crew works for Nasa.
Inspiration4, as it’s known, is commanded by Jared Isaacman, founder and chief executive of Shift4 Payments and an accomplished pilot and adventurer. Joining him are medical officer Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital and paediatric cancer survivor, Mission Specialist Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran and aerospace data engineer, and Mission Pilot Dr Sian Proctor, a geoscientist, entrepreneur, and trained pilot.
The Dragon capsule's two men and two women are looking to spend three days circling the world from an unusually high orbit 100 miles (160 kilometres) higher than the International Space Station before splashing down off the Florida coast later this weekend.
Late on Wednesday afternoon, a live video streamed on the internet showing the astronauts donning their spacesuits at a SpaceX building near the launchpad. That is a change from the Nasa centre used by Nasa astronauts and reflects the shift from a mission serving government to one focused on private enterprise.
The astronauts then took a short ride in Tesla S.U.V.s to the launchpad about three hours before lift-off. They ascended via elevator to the top of the launch tower, 77.7 metres up, and crossed a bridge to the Crew Dragon capsule. They paused, beaming with wide smiles, to take in the view. They signed the wall of what is called the “white room,” a space just outside the capsule door.
Technicians then sealed them into the spacecraft. Two and half hours before launch, they were all strapped in and performing checks of the communication system. Then there was a long wait before the rocket was to be filled with propellant, 35 minutes before lift-off.
Sarah Gillis, the lead space operations engineer for SpaceX who guided the crew to orbit from mission control, wished them good luck and a godspeed.
Watch live coverage of the moments before they took off: