Crew completes spaceship fit check ahead of all-private mission to orbit

Commander Jared Isaacman and crewmates Hayley Arceneaux, Sian Proctor, and Chris Sembroski pose with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft Aug. 30 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. Credit: SpaceX / Inspiration4

The four private citizens who will fly into orbit later this month on a chartered SpaceX capsule visited their spaceship at Cape Canaveral this week for fit checks.

On Wednesday, officials released the first pictures of the cupola window attached to the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft, a new addition that will offer the crew expansive views of planet Earth from an altitude of more than 350 miles.

The four-person crew, led by billionaire Jared Isaacman, put on their SpaceX-made flight suits and strapped into the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft Monday inside SpaceX’s Dragon processing facility at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The mission is called Inspiration4, and it will be the first fully commercial human spaceflight to orbit Earth, without a professional government-employed astronaut on-board. The mission is the centerpiece of a charity-focused project designed in part to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a nonprofit institution devoted to treating children with cancer and other pediatric diseases.

The launch, set for Sept. 15 on a Falcon 9 rocket from pad 39A, is SpaceX’s next mission flying from Florida’s Space Coast.

Isaacman, 38, is a civilian pilot with experience flying high-performance fighter jets. He is paying for the mission — SpaceX charges about $50 million per seat — and will command the three-day Inspiration4 flight on the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft, which his designed to by fully automated, with the crew intervening in the operation of the capsule only in emergencies.

The commander will be joined on the mission by Sian Proctor, 51, a private pilot and science educator with a master’s degree in geology, Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old physician assistant at St. Jude, and Chris Sembroski, a 42-year-old data engineer from the Seattle area.

Proctor and Sembroski got their seats through a competition and a lottery. Arceneaux, a survivor of childhood cancer, was named to the crew to represent “hope.”

The Inspiration4 crew members have trained in a simulator at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, flown in fighter jets, and taken a flight on a zero-gravity training aircraft to provide a taste of what they will experience in orbit.

The Crew Equipment Interface Test, or CEIT, is one of the final major milestones for the Inspiration4 team before launch. The CEIT, which provides astronauts an opportunity to see and interact with equipment they will use in space, is a holdover adopted by SpaceX from NASA’s human spaceflight program.

Isaacman called the CEIT a “Dragon test drive” and tweeted that “all systems checked good.” The reusable Crew Dragon Resilience capsule is now mounted on its disposable trunk, where the ship’s power-generating solar panels and cooling radiators are located.

The Inspiration4 mission is SpaceX’s fourth crew mission since NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken rocketed into orbit on the company’s Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft in May 2020. SpaceX developed the Crew Dragon spaceship in a cost-sharing partnership with NASA.

The Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft is set to launch on its second flight, following a six-month stint on the International Space Station that ended with the splashdown of a four astronauts in May. Since the capsule’s return to Earth four months ago, SpaceX technicians at Cape Canaveral have refurbished the spaceship for another trip into orbit.

SpaceX plans to debut a third human-rated Dragon spacecraft for launch Oct. 31 with NASA’s next crew flight to the space station. The company says each Crew Dragon is rated for at least five missions.

Commander Jared Isaacman poses inside the cupola window mounted to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Resilience space station set to fly on the three-day Inspiration4 mission. Credit: Inspiration4

Unlike SpaceX’s crew missions under contract to NASA, the Inspiration4 flight will not travel to the space station. Instead, the Crew Dragon capsule will ride a Falcon 9 rocket into an orbit some 357 miles (575 kilometers) above Earth, higher than astronauts have flown since the last space shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009.

Before, during, and after their three-day flight, Isaacman and his crewmates will participate in several human health experiments sponsored by SpaceX, the Translational Research Institute for Space Health at Baylor College of Medicine, and investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine, according to a press release.

The crew members will also participate in outreach and fundraising activities for St. Jude.

The private astronauts will also get spectacular views of Earth through a bubble-shaped window SpaceX has fitted to the front end of the capsule, replacing a docking adapter used for missions to the International Space Station.

Officials affiliated with the mission released the first pictures of the SpaceX-built cupola window Wednesday, showing each of the Inspiration4 crew members inside the glass structure at SpaceX headquarters in California, before the company shipped the cupola to Florida for integration with the Crew Dragon capsule.

“I have never seen a more innovative and impressive organization than SpaceX,” Isaacman tweeted Wednesday. “Six months from idea to fully analyzed and flight-ready hardware!” he tweeted, referring to the cupola.

“They are making science fiction a reality each day and Inspiration4 is proud to be a very small part in the history they are making.”

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.