University science professor, data analyst on SpaceX crew for first fully civilian space flight

A university science professor and aerospace data analyst were appointed on Tuesday to complete a four-member crew for a SpaceX launch into orbit later this year, billed as the first fully civilian spaceflight in history. .

The last two citizen astronauts were introduced during a media briefing broadcast live from Kennedy Space Center in Florida by SpaceX manned spaceflight chief Benji Reed and billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, who designed the mission in part as a charity campaign.

Isaacman, founder and CEO of e-commerce company Shift4 Payments, pays an unspecified but presumably exorbitant sum to fellow billionaire and SpaceX owner Elon Musk to orbit with three other people aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. .

The flight, scheduled for September 15 at the earliest, is expected to last three to four days, from launch to landing.

“When this mission is over, people will look at it and say this was the first time ordinary people could go to space,” Isaacman, 38, told reporters.

Dubbed Inspiration4, the mission is designed primarily to raise awareness and support one of Isaacman’s favorite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading pediatric cancer center. He personally pledged $ 100 million to the institute.

Assuming the role of mission “commander”, Isaacman in February appointed St. Jude’s physician assistant Haley Arceneaux, 29, bone cancer survivor and former Tennessee hospital patient, as his first. teammate.

Announced Tuesday, Chris Sembroski, 41, an employee of the Seattle-area aerospace industry and US Air Force veteran, was selected in a draw that drew 72,000 applicants and collected 113 million dollars in donations to St. Jude.

Sian Proctor, 51, professor of geosciences at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, Ariz., And entrepreneur who was once a NASA astronaut candidate, was separately selected in an online business competition hosted by Shift4 Payments .

All four will undergo extensive training based on the model of the program that NASA astronauts use to prepare for SpaceX missions.

The Inspiration4 mission may mark a new era in spaceflight, but it’s not the only fully civilian rocket launch underway.

British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is developing a space plane to transport paying customers on suborbital excursions.

SpaceX is planning the separate launch, possibly next year, of a retired NASA astronaut, a former Israeli fighter pilot, and two others in conjunction with private spaceflight company Axiom Space based. in Houston.

Musk also intends to fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon in 2023. The fees charged for these flights will help fund the development of Musk’s new Starship rocket for missions to the Moon and Mars.

Inspiration4 is more than a billionaire’s spacewalk, say organizers, promising the crew will conduct a number of as yet undetermined science experiments during their brief trip.

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Sean N. Ayres