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SpaceX’s first tourists set off on their space cruise

The four American space tourists will spend three days in orbit around the Earth, without any professional astronaut on board.

It is a modern day adventure. Four American space tourists have embarked on an incredible journey in zero gravity in a SpaceX spacecraft, where they must spend three days in orbit around the Earth without a professional astronaut on board, a historic first.

The Falcon 9 rocket took off on time, 8:02 p.m. local (2:02 a.m. CST Thursday) from the legendary Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad 39A in Florida, with a roar and a fireball illuminating the night. A few minutes later, the first and then the second stage of the rocket separated, leaving the Dragon capsule and its passengers alone in the cosmos.

“Few have been there before and many will follow. The door is opening now, it’s pretty incredible ”mission commander billionaire Jared Isaacman said from inside the capsule after reaching space.

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Fifteen times around the globe a day

They must travel farther than the International Space Station (ISS), at a target orbit of 575 km. They will circumnavigate the globe about fifteen times each day.

Called Inspiration4, the mission is supposed to embody a step towards the democratization of space, by proving that the cosmos is not reserved only for astronaut crews handpicked and trained over the years.

After receiving a visit from Elon Musk, boss of SpaceX and Tesla, the four passengers boarded around 4 p.m. in white Tesla, under the sun and the applause of a small crowd, to reach the building where they then went. put on their custom-made jumpsuit. Then they rejoined the launch pad, got on board, and after a series of systems checks, the capsule hatch was closed.

The mission was chartered by Jared Isaacman, 38, boss of a financial services company and seasoned pilot. The price he paid SpaceX has not been disclosed, but runs into tens of millions of dollars. He will be the captain on board, and offered three more seats to strangers.

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Hayley Arceneaux, a pediatric cancer survivor, is a 29-year-old medical assistant. She is the youngest American to ever go to space, and the first person with a prosthetic (femur). Chris Sembroski, 42, is a former US Air Force employee who now works in the aviation industry. Finally, Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old professor of earth sciences, had almost been selected in 2009 to become an astronaut for NASA.

Physical experiments

At the end of their journey, these four space tourists will begin a dizzying descent to land off Florida. For SpaceX, this is nothing less than a first step towards a multiplanetary humanity – Elon Musk’s ultimate vision.

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On board, their biological data (heart rate, sleep, etc.) as well as their cognitive capacities will be analyzed. They will also undergo tests before and after the trip, to measure the effect on their bodies. They will be able to enjoy a spectacular view through a glass dome installed for the first time on Dragon.

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. To prepare, they also made a trek in the snow up to more than 3000 meters of altitude, and supported the force g of a centrifuge (long arm in rapid rotation) and of jet flights.

The mission also serves as a lever for a huge fundraising for the pediatric hospital of St Jude in Memphis (Tennessee), where Hayley Arceneaux works, after having been treated there as a child. In the vessel are various objects (ukulele, 30 kg of hops intended to make space-flavored beer on Earth, etc.) which will then be auctioned.

A sector in turmoil

This mission concludes a summer marked by the flight of billionaires over the last frontier: first, Richard Branson on July 11, aboard the Virgin Galactic ship, then, a few days later, Jeff Bezos, with his company Blue Origin. But these suborbital flights only offered a few minutes in zero gravity.

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Tourists have already been to orbit: wealthy personalities, for example, went to the ISS between 2001 and 2009, aboard Russian rockets. But the advent of private enterprise programs today marks a turning point.

“The take-off of Inspiration4 reminds us of what can be accomplished when we partner with private industry”NASA boss Bill Nelson tweeted on Wednesday.

SpaceX has already sent ten astronauts to the ISS on behalf of NASA during three previous manned missions, and is planning other space tourism flights thereafter. The next one in January 2022, with three businessmen on board.

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