The Planetary SocietySep 08, 2021

SpaceX Inspiration4 mission: Your questions, answered

SpaceX is preparing to launch the first-ever crew of non-governmental astronauts into Earth orbit.

The mission — called Inspiration4 (I4) — was announced back in February. I4 is scheduled to launch on September 15, at which time the four-person crew will blast off in a SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The spacecraft will be hitched to a Falcon 9 rocket. After three days, the crew will splash down off the coast of Florida.

Philanthropy is a key part of I4’s mission. The team hopes to raise $200 million in donations for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which focuses on treating cancer and pediatric diseases.

A specific launch time is expected to be announced three days before liftoff. Here's some background on Inspiration4:

Inspiration4 Crew
Inspiration4 Crew The I4 crew jet training in Bozeman, Montana.Image: Inspiration4 / John Kraus

What is a non-governmental mission?

None of the Inspiration4 crew members are professional astronauts. Until now, all crewed orbital spaceflights have included one or more astronauts trained by governmental space agencies. That said, the I4 team has been preparing; among other forms of training, they’ve done centrifuge training and completed a vigorous hike up Mount Rainier in Washington.

Who will fly on Inspiration4?

The I4 crew includes Jared Isaacman, Sian Proctor, Hayley Arceneaux and Chris Sembroski.

Isaacman is a billionaire and the CEO of Shift4 Payments. According to Time, he bought all four seats on the capsule that will ferry the I4 team into orbit. The cost Isaacman paid per seat isn’t being disclosed, but for context, NASA reportedly pays SpaceX about $55 million per seat for Crew Dragon flights to the International Space Station.

Isaacman, who is also a pilot, will serve as the mission’s commander. He has committed to donating $100 million to St. Jude to help the mission achieve its goal.

Proctor, I4’s pilot, is a geology professor and science communicator. She previously applied to NASA’s astronaut program three times and has participated in several of NASA’s analog missions, which simulate conditions on the Moon and Mars.

Arceneaux is a bone cancer survivor who received treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She is now a physician assistant there, working with leukemia and lymphoma patients. Arceneaux will be the first person with a prosthetic leg to go to space.

Sembroski is a U.S. Air Force veteran and former Space Camp counselor who works as an engineer at Lockheed Martin. Sembroski’s college friend won a sweepstakes to participate in the I4 mission but gave him the seat because of his passion for space.

Will there be science experiments on I4?

Inspiration4’s official site says the crew will “conduct experiments designed to expand our knowledge of the universe,” adding that the Crew Dragon will carry “scientific equipment dedicated to microgravity research and experimentation.” The specifics of these experiments are currently unknown.

The crew will presumably spend a lot of time enjoying views of Earth during their trip: SpaceX swapped the docking adapter on their Dragon spacecraft with a glass-domed cupola, which will provide 360-degree views from orbit.