The five-hour launch window opens Wednesday (Sept. 15) at 8:02 p.m. EDT.
SpaceX‘s first all-civilian mission successfully launched into orbit on Sept. 15 carrying a message of diversity during the third billionaire-led flight to launch in 2021. You can see a launch replay above and the full webcast here.
The mission, called Inspiration4, includes four private citizens who will fly on a Crew Dragon spacecraft for an Earth-orbiting mission. The crew spent three days in orbit and returned to Earth on Sept. 18.
Billionaire Jared Issacman, founder of Shift4 Payments, purchased the flight as part of an effort to raise millions for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He is joined by Haley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski.
Live updates: SpaceX’s Inspiration4 private all-civilian orbital mission
Gallery: SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission in photos
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Inspiration4 is the third spaceflight by a billionaire in 2021. The other two — both suborbital missions — were the flight of Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and company employees aboard the Unity 22 mission on July 11, and the flight of Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos and three other passengers (including noted aviator Wally Funk) flew aboard a New Shepard spacecraft on July 20.
Like these other two flights, Inspiration4 is largely made up of civilians with no professional space experience, although the crew has undergone basic training to get a sense of what to expect. But this time, the crew will spend three days orbiting the Earth, as opposed to the brief suborbital flights of Bezos and Branson. Learn more about the flight below.
Inspiration4 lifted off at the start of a five-hour launch window that opened on Wednesday, Sept. 15, at 8:02 p.m. EDT (0002 Sept. 16 GMT). A backup launch window was available on Sept. 16 at 8:05 p.m. EDT (0005 Sept. 17 GMT), but ultimately not needed.
SpaceX offered a live launch webcast starting at 3:45 p.m. EDT (1945 GMT) and covering the final four hours before liftoff. You can watch a replay webcast live here, as well as at the top of this page and the Space.com homepage courtesy of SpaceX.
Netflix also hosted a special “Countdown to Launch” event hosted by astronauts and celebrities. You can see a replay of that webcast on Netflix’s YouTube page.
“Teams selected the five-hour launch window based upon weather forecasts for the launch site, along the ascent corridor, and possible landing locations off the coasts of Florida for a safe return of the crew and splashdown a few days later,” Inspiration4 mission officials wrote in an update posted Sept. 12.
Typically, launch times are subject to things such as space traffic and the weather at both the launching site and any emergency sites nearby. Like other Crew Dragon launches, Inspiration4 will go to space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. But while other Crew Dragons have flown to the International Space Station, the Inspiration4 mission will not rendezvous with another spacecraft on this orbital mission.
In the end, weather conditions were pristine for launch, increasing from a 70% chance of good weather to 90% by launch time.
The launch took place from NASA’s historic Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 14. SpaceX leases Launch Complex 39A from NASA and has modified the pad for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches.
Pad 39A’s most famous launch was the Apollo 11 debut moon-landing effort of July 1969, but it also was used throughout the Apollo and space shuttle programs for crewed missions. The space shuttle program retired in 2011, and SpaceX signed a 20-year lease for the pad in April 2014.
Spectators wishing to view the launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex had to purchase tickets online in advance. For a list of other good places nearby to watch future launches for free, check out NASA’s launch viewing tips here.
Each of the four crewmembers of Inspiration4 was selected to represent one of the “pillars” of support for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital: leadership, hope, generosity and prosperity.
The four crew members of Inspiration4 are:
– Inspiration4: When to watch and what to know
– Meet the Inspiration4 private astronaut crew
– Inspiration4 photo gallery
The mission has a dual goal of inspiring and of conducting science in orbit. The Inspiration4 website notes that the spacecraft’s path above Earth will cross over about 90 percent of the world’s population. Additionally, the crew plan to engage in experiments “designed to expand our knowledge of the universe”, with a goal to allocate the “maximum possible mass” to research above what the crew needs to live and survive in space. The science is meant to address projects “that are otherwise unable to overcome the high barriers of traditional space-based research,” the website adds.
Related: Inspiration4 astronauts to conduct health research on private SpaceX mission
Investigators from the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine and investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine will “collect environmental and biomedical data and biological samples from Inspiration4’s four crew members before, during, and after this historic spaceflight,” the release notes.
The experiments are wide-ranging, covering everything from studying the genome, to balance, blood, organs, behavior and much more. The participating scientists also pledge to make all biomedical data open to the public in a repository, for research purposes.
The launch time of Sept. 15 opens at 8:02 p.m. EDT (0002 GMT Sept. 16) and will last for five hours, according to Inspiration4 mission updates.
The splashdown is scheduled three days after the launch, and as with previous Crew Dragon flights, the spacecraft will splash down off the coast of Florida so that the crew and science samples can be swiftly and easily returned to the NASA Kennedy Space Center.
Below is a timeline for the launch and landing of the Falcon 9 rocket, from SpaceX:
Since SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission is not going to the International Space Station, it does not need the docking port that typically sits at the nose of the space capsule. In its place, SpaceX has installed a huge glass dome, or cupola, to serve as a stunning window on the Earth below.
SpaceX first unveiled the cupola in March with the Inspiration4 crew trying it out in recent weeks. The cupola is “probably most ‘in space’ you could possibly feel by being in a glass dome,” SpaceX founder Musk wrote on Twitter during the announcement.
Isaacman called the glass cupola an “engineering marvel” when it was announced earlier this year.
By coincidence (or perhaps design) the cupola is near SpaceX’s toilet on Crew Dragon, so Inspiration4 astronauts may get spectacular views while using the bathroom.
“It’s not a ton of privacy. But you do have this kind of privacy curtain that cuts across the top of the spacecraft, so you can kind of separate yourself from everyone else,” billionaire tech entrepreneur Isaacman, who is financing (and commanding) the mission, told Insider in July. “And that also happens to be where the glass cupola is. So, you know, when people do inevitably have to use the bathroom, they’re going to have one hell of a view.”
Editor’s note: This page was updated Sept. 15 with additional details.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
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Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for Space.com who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.
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