The latest in a recent line of space-obsessed billionaires was set for liftoff on Wednesday, with three less wealthy private citizens along for the ride aboard a SpaceX rocket, seeking to become the first all-civilian crew launched into Earth orbit.

The quartet of amateur space travellers — led by the American founder and CEO of e-commerce firm Shift4 Payments Inc, Jared Isaacman — were due for blastoff as early as 8 p.m. ET from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. CBC News will live stream the event starting at 7 p.m. ET.

SpaceX’s senior director of human space flight, Benji Reed, told reporters at the Cape on Tuesday that “everything looked great” following a final “static” test-firing of the rocket engines on Monday morning.

“Right now the weather is trending well” for an on-time launch, he said.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sits on Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39-A on Wednesday in Cape Canaveral , Fla. For the first time in 60 years of human space flight, a rocket is poised to blast into orbit with no professional astronauts on board, only four tourists. (Chris O’Meara/The Associated Press)

The flight, with no professional astronauts accompanying SpaceX’s paying customers, is expected to last about three days, from liftoff to splashdown in the Atlantic.

The group will fly aboard a gleaming white SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, perched atop one of the company’s reusable Falcon 9 rockets and fitted with a special observation dome in place of the usual docking hatch.

Isaacman, 38, the trip’s benefactor, has forked over an undisclosed — but presumably hefty — sum to fellow billionaire and SpaceX owner Elon Musk to send himself and his three crewmates aloft. Time magazine has put the ticket price for all four seats at $200 million.

The so-called Inspiration4 mission was conceived by Isaacman mainly to raise awareness and support for one of his favourite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading pediatric cancer centre in Memphis, Tenn.

It marks the debut flight of Musk’s new orbital tourism business, and a leap ahead of competitors likewise offering rides on rocket ships to well-heeled customers willing to pay a small fortune for the exhilaration and bragging rights of space flight.

Inspiration4 is aiming for an orbital altitude of 575 kilometres above Earth, higher than the International Space Station or Hubble Space Telescope. At that height, the Crew Dragon will circle the globe once every 90 minutes at a speed of some 27,360 km/h, or roughly 22 times the speed of sound.

Why it’s a bigger deal than Virgin Galactic’s and Blue Origin’s flights

Rival companies Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin inaugurated their own private-astronaut services this summer, with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, each going along for the ride.

WATCH | The issues, upside and cost of the billionaire space race:

The issues, upside and environmental cost of the billionaire space raceAs Jeff Bezos becomes the latest billionaire to embark on a short space flight, an astrophysics professor and science reporter discuss the benefits, issues and environmental costs surrounding the latest space race. 6:40

But those suborbital flights, lasting a matter of minutes, were short hops compared with Inspiration4’s space flight profile.

SpaceX already ranks as the most well-established player in the burgeoning constellation of commercial rocket ventures, having launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA. Two of its Dragon capsules are docked there already.

Crew won’t fly spacecraft, but will perform medical experiments

Despite some largely honorary titles, the Inspiration4 crew will have no part to play in flying the spacecraft, which will be operated by ground-based flight teams and onboard guidance systems, even though two crew members are licensed pilots.

Isaacman, who is rated to fly commercial and military jets, has assumed the role of mission “commander,” while geoscientist Sian Proctor, 51, a former NASA astronaut candidate, has been designated as the mission “pilot.”

Rounding out the crew are “chief medical officer” Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a bone cancer survivor turned St. Jude physicians’ assistant, and mission “specialist” Chris Sembroski, 42, a U.S. Air Force veteran and aerospace data engineer.

The four crewmates have spent five months in rigorous preparations, including altitude fitness, centrifuge (G-force), microgravity and simulator training, emergency drills, classroom work and medical exams.

Inspiration4 officials stress that the mission is more than a joyride.

Once in orbit, the crew will perform a series of medical experiments with “potential applications for human health on Earth and during future space flights,” the group said in a news statement.

Biomedical data and biological samples, including ultrasound scans, will also be collected from crew members before, during and after the flight.

“The crew of Inspiration4 is eager to use our mission to help make a better future for those who will launch in the years and decades to come,” Isaacman said in a statement.

Source From CBC News

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