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Commercial space travel has arrived: SpaceX launches all-civilian crew on three-day spaceflight

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Sep 16, 2021, 11:01 AM EDT

SpaceX made yet another major stride this week in its quest to make private spaceflight available to as many people as people. Wednesday evening the company launched Inspiration4, which made history as the first-ever "all-civilian" mission into orbit, launching four private passengers into space in a Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket.

The passengers, who will now orbit the Earth for three days as part of the Inspiration4 mission, were 38-year-old entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, 51-year-old geoscientist Sian Proctor, 42-year-old aerospace data engineer Chris Sembroski, and 29-year-old physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux.

The Inspiration4 mission was also tied to charity drive to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Isaacman, who founded the payment processing company Shift4, played a major part in that effort by paying for his own flight and the seats of his three crew members, and donating $100 million to St. Jude. Isaacman also spearheaded a charity drive for the hospital that began months ago, raffling off chances to be onboard the flight in exchange for donations to St. Judge.

“This dream began 10 months ago,” Isaacman said in a preflight briefing Tuesday, according to NBC News. “We set out from the start to deliver a very inspiring message, certainly what can be done up in space and the possibilities there, but also what we can accomplish here on Earth.”

Though the crew was not made up of anyone working for a government or military agency, the Inspiration4 mission was not without flight experience. Sembroski is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, while Proctor was once a NASA astronaut candidate and is also a license pilot. Arceneaux's ties to the flight were based on her connection to St. Jude, as she is both a cancer survivor and and an employee at the hospital.

Now, the entire crew of the Inspiration4 will spend three days in orbit 360 miles above Earth, higher than the International Space Station where SpaceX Dragon capsules normally dock. Because it will be orbiting instead of docking at any point, this version of the Dragon craft has been outfitted with a new 360-degree glass dome to allow the crew to witness the majesty of space. The crew will circle the Earth roughly 15 times each day before splashing down in the Atlantic later this week.

Inspiration4's successful flight marks the latest stride in the effort toward private spaceflight, which is so far open only to the very wealthy but which entrepreneurs hope to one day make accessible to all. SpaceX's upcoming private flight plans include a launch of the first-ever all-private space station crew to the ISS in 2022, as well a planned flight around the moon in 2023.