Kennedy Space Center (United States) (AFP)
Can four people who have never been to space before spend three days circling the Earth after only a few months of training?
This is the challenge that SpaceX set itself when it launches its first tourist mission on Wednesday, the first time that a crew of exclusively private citizens will orbit our planet.
A five-hour launch window for “Inspiration4” opens from 8:02 pm (0002 GMT Thursday).
A Falcon 9 rocket, with a Dragon capsule at its top, will take off from the legendary Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Center in Florida, from where the Apollo 11 mission took off for the moon.
The spacecraft’s trajectory will take it to an altitude of 575 kilometers (357 miles), deeper in space than the International Space Station (ISS).
At the end of their journey, the four Americans will descend off the coast of Florida, their descent slowed by huge parachutes.
The assignment was paid for by Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old dropout and founder of Shift4 Payments.
SpaceX has not disclosed what it cost them, but the price is in the tens of millions of dollars.
“We understand how lucky and fortunate we are,” Isaacman said at a media briefing on Tuesday.
For the trip, Isaacman takes three other people selected in a competition.
Hayley Arceneaux, a pediatric cancer survivor, is a 29-year-old medical assistant. She will be the youngest American to be put into orbit and the first person to wear a prosthesis on part of her femur.
Chris Sembroski, 42, is a former US Air Force employee who now works in the aviation industry.
Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old geology professor, was almost selected to become a NASA astronaut in 2009.
She will only be the fourth African American woman to go to space.
– Physical education –
The stated objective: to represent a turning point in the democratization of space, by proving that the cosmos is accessible to people who have not been handpicked and trained for many years as astronauts.
For SpaceX, this is nothing less than a first step towards a multi-planetary humanity – Elon Musk’s ultimate vision.
On board, their biological data (including their heart rate, sleep), as well as their cognitive abilities, will be analyzed.
They will also undergo tests before and after the trip, to measure its effect on their body. Their training only lasted about six months.
The flight is expected to remain fully automated, but the crew has been trained by SpaceX to be able to take control in an emergency.
They were also physically tested.
Together, they hiked the snow to the summit of Mount Rainier, which rises to 3,000 meters (14,411 feet) in the northwest of the country.
They also went through high G-force training on a centrifuge – a long spinning arm – and jet flights.
In addition to serving as a vehicle for SpaceX’s ambitions, the mission aims to raise $ 200 million for St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, a premier facility in Memphis.
Arceneaux was treated there like a child and now works there.
The crew will take with them various objects – a ukulele, 30 kilograms of hops intended for brewing space beer, several non-fungible tokens – which will be auctioned for this cause.
– Space tourism –
The space adventure crowns a summer marked by the battle of billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos to reach the last frontier.
The founder of Virgin Galactic achieved the feat first, on July 11, and was followed by the boss of Blue Origin nine days later.
But these flights only offered a few minutes of weightlessness. SpaceX’s mission is much more ambitious.
This will be the fourth crewed mission for SpaceX, having now sent 10 astronauts to the ISS.
The company is already working on future tourism missions, including one in January 2022 to the ISS.
© 2021 AFP