SpaceX Has Successfully Launched Its First All-Civilian Crew Into Orbit

Four amateur astronauts lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday at 8:02 p.m. EDT (0002 GMT) from Pad 39A, making history by becoming the first all-civilian crew to reach orbit in a fully commercial mission operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and paid for by a billionaire entrepreneur. The four-person crew was strapped into a Crew Dragon spacecraft atop the 229-foot-tall Falcon 9 rocket.

The Falcon 9 first stage rocket successfully separated from the second stage, propelling the all-civilian crew into orbit about 360 miles above the planet’s surface. The rocket turned night into day by lighting up the sky and ascending through the atmosphere on a pillar of flames and smoke. The engines’ rumbling even triggered off car alarms in the area.

The launch, dubbed Inspiration4, was the first step in what is planned to be an audacious three-day journey in orbit around Earth by a group of people who just months ago didn’t know each other and didn’t expect to fly to space.

“Few have come before, and many are about to follow,” Inspiration4 Cmdr. Jared Issacman said, referring to civilians in space. “Inspiration4 is go for launch,” he said. “Punch it, SpaceX.”

Upon reaching orbit, Isaacman said, “The door is opening now, and it’s pretty incredible.”

SpaceX confirmed that the spacecraft had hit an altitude of about 363 miles, exceeding the intended orbit of just under 360 miles.

The mission represents a fresh step ahead in the private space business, as well as another step forward for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has pledged to open the space to ordinary people, not just government-trained specialists, in its goal to land humans on Mars.

Professional astronauts have already accompanied civilians on missions to the International Space Station. But this is the first time an all-citizen crew has reached orbit, with two of them winning their seats through a competition and lottery.  

Isaacman, a 38-year-old pilot who flies fighter jets in aerobatic competitions. He was in charge of the mission, and his first choice to accompany him on the flight was Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old from Memphis who works as a physician assistant. She was diagnosed with bone cancer and had a rod implanted in her leg, making her the first person with a prosthetic to travel space. Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski, the two members of the crew, won their seats. Proctor, 51, is a certified pilot from Phoenix, an artist, poet, and college professor.  

The Inspiration4 crew looks like a blend of America, with members from many walks of life, ages, and backgrounds, whose trip to space was as much by chance as by plan.

Despite a successful launch, the crew will spend the next three days in a tiny spaceship, where they will live and sleep close to one another. Then there’s the journey back. Finally, the spaceship will slam back through the atmosphere to return home with a tsunami of media personnel waiting.

This story will be updated as new information becomes available.

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