SpaceX has announced that it will launch two private citizens on a trip around Earth aboard its Crew Dragon spacecraft, marking the first all-civilian mission to space. The mission, dubbed Inspiration4, will launch no earlier than the fourth quarter of 2021 and will be commanded by Jared Isaacman, the 37-year-old founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments. Isaacman plans to donate the three open seats on the mission to individuals who will be selected to represent the mission’s pillars of leadership, hope, generosity, and prosperity. The passengers will undergo commercial astronaut training by SpaceX and will be launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
This is a major milestone for commercial spaceflight, as it demonstrates the feasibility of privately-funded space missions, which could pave the way for more space tourism in the future. The Inspiration4 mission is also unique in that it will not be visiting the International Space Station, but instead will travel in a free-flying orbit around Earth for several days before re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down off the Florida coast.
This announcement comes just a few months after SpaceX’s historic Crew-1 mission, which marked the first time that NASA astronauts were launched from US soil since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. The Crew Dragon spacecraft used for that mission was designed to carry up to seven passengers, so the four-seat configuration for the Inspiration4 mission will provide ample room for the passengers to move around and enjoy the experience.
In a statement, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk praised the mission and expressed hope that it will inspire others to pursue space travel. “This is an important milestone towards enabling access to space for everyone and advancing space exploration,” he said. “I hope this mission will inspire others to do incredible things in the future.”
The announcement also drew praise from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who called it a “bold step forward for space exploration” and noted that it builds on NASA’s legacy of working with commercial partners to advance space technology.