A new era begins in space travel, a future where anyone – at least anyone with tens of millions of dollars – can buy a rocket ride to see Earth from a few hundred miles up.
Jared Isaacman, a 37-year-old billionaire, announced Monday that he is essentially chartering a rocket and spaceship from SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk, for a three- or four-day trip into space.
The start is planned for October. It is said to be the first mission into orbit where none of the people on board are professional astronauts from NASA or any other state space agency.
Mr. Isaacman’s announcement follows last week’s report on a private mission, also on a SpaceX ship, to the International Space Station. Three customers pay $ 55 million each for an eight-day stay that is slated to take place as early as next January.
“We want to work towards a Jetsons-like world,” Isaacman said in an interview. He is the founder and managing director of Shift4 Payments, a company that sells terminals and point of sale systems for credit card processing to restaurants and other companies.
And one of the people named Inspiration4 could be you.
There are four seats in the current SpaceX Crew Dragon capsules, and Isaacman looks for fellow passengers who aren’t particularly wealthy.
He gives two of the places to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, which treats children for free and develops cures for childhood cancers and other diseases.
One of those places will go to a health worker in St. Jude. “Actually, a former cancer survivor who was treated at St. Jude and came back to work there today,” said Isaacman.
He and the hospital officials did not name the St. Jude employee on Monday.
The other seat will be given away at random to someone with the goal of raising at least $ 200 million for St. Jude. You don’t have to donate to take part in the space trip, but each dollar donated counts as 10 entries, up to 10,000 entries.
Only US citizens and legal permanent residents 18 years of age or older can enter the prize draw. Someone selected for the trip must be under 6 feet, 6 inches tall, weigh less than 250 pounds, and pass psychological and physical tests.
“If you can do a roller coaster ride, like an intense roller coaster ride, you should be good at flying Dragon,” Musk said during a press conference Monday.
Mr Isaacman declined to disclose how much he is paying for his private mission in space but said: “It is very safe to say that what we are asking to raise in support of this cause is well above the EU’s cost will be mission. “
He said he pledged to personally donate $ 100 million. “If you are going to accomplish all of these great things in space, all of these advances, there are some good things you have to do here on earth to make sure you beat childhood cancer along the way,” he said.
Fourth place in the Crew Dragon goes to an entrepreneur in a “Shark Tank” -like competition organized by Shift4. Details about the entrepreneur competition can be found on the Shift4 website.
The winners of the St. Jude competition and the Shift4 competition will be selected in about a month. The crew members are then equipped for spacesuits and begin training.
“Let’s have fun and inspire the public and get people excited about the future,” said Musk.
This will not be the first time Mr. Isaacman has gone far and fast. He flies fighter jets for fun and founded Draken International in 2012, which owns fighter jets and trains pilots in the U.S. military. He regularly told the people at SpaceX that he was interested in going into space one day.
“I’ve been a SpaceX fan for a long time,” said Isaacman. “I’ve been a space enthusiast since I was in kindergarten.”
SpaceX developed the Crew Dragon for NASA to bring astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The first mission with crew and two NASA astronauts, Robert L. Behnken and Douglas G. Hurley, started in May last year. The second carried four astronauts there in November and a third crew is due to begin the journey in the spring.
Mr Musk said the current plan is for Mr Isaacman to go into Resilience, the capsule that was launched in November and is currently docked with the space station.
After Mr. Behnken and Mr. Hurley’s successful first mission, Mr. Isaacman again asked his SpaceX contacts to keep an eye on him. This time the answer was, “I think we’re ready for this interview,” he said, “and from then on it went very, very quickly.”
Mr. Isaacman intends to be more than a passenger. He will learn how to operate the spaceship and serve as its commander.
“It’s just kind of in my DNA,” he said.
The Crew Dragon will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will orbit the earth for several days before splashing off the Florida coast.
His journey won’t be the only one putting private astronauts into orbit in the coming months. An Axiom Space mission in Houston will bring three men to the International Space Station. Axiom is also building a commercial module to expand the space station and eventually intends to operate its own commercial orbital outposts.
Private individuals have traveled to the space station, but those trips were organized between 2000 and 2009 by a space tourism company, Space Adventures, and operated by the Russian space agency, which provided individual seats in their Soyuz capsules alongside professional astronauts. At the time, NASA officials didn’t like visits from wealthy tourists to the space station, but the agency began encouraging more commercial efforts during the Trump administration.
In 2019, NASA announced new guidelines to help boost business on the space station, including charging $ 35,000 per night for visitors to stay there and covering the cost of amenities like water, air, internet connection, and toilet.
Axiom is the first company to use NASA accommodations. The first customers are Larry Connor, managing partner of the Connor Group, a company in Dayton, Ohio that owns and operates luxury apartments. Mark Pathy, executive director of Mavrik Corporation, a Canadian investment company; and Eytan Stibbe, an investor and former Israeli Air Force pilot. The three did not know each other before.
“I think we shared the same vision, and that vision is about getting it right, doing worthwhile research and experimentation, and meeting the highest standards set by NASA and the astronauts,” Connor said in one Interview. “So I’m pretty confident that the team will work well together.”
Mr. Connor, who will be 71 when it launches next year, is believed to be the second oldest person to ever fly into space after John Glenn, who flew on the space shuttle when he was 77. He wanted to do research for the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
The commander of the space station journey will be an Axiom vice president, Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut. Another former NASA astronaut, Peggy A. Whitson, is the backup commander.
Mr López-Alegría said Axiom originally planned to sell all four seats. “I think we understood pretty quickly that it was really about having someone with experience,” he said. “And I think that makes NASA a lot happier too. So I happened to be the guy in the room who’s been to space before. “
He expected that he would spend most of the time on the space station helping Mr. Connor, Mr. Pathy and Mr. Stibbe.
“It will in a way be more of a labor manager than a cruise director,” said López-Alegría.
In an interview, Mr. Connor admitted that many people question the worth of rich people who pay millions to travel like this. “I understand people have questions,” he said. “People criticize, ‘Hey, with all the problems looming, why on earth are these people spending all this money going into space?'”
However, he responded that his company’s charity, Kids & Community Partners, plans to spend $ 400 million on programs to help children and fund medical research over the next 10 years. Overall, he said he would end up donating half of his net worth to charity. And around 30 percent of its assets flow into what the company describes as a “key partner”.
“Only 20 percent will stay in my family,” said Connor. “So I was just hoping that when people criticize or slander me for it, at least they have the context of what I believe in.”
Mr Musk also said expensive trips like this were necessary to cut costs for future space travelers. “This is an important milestone in giving everyone access to space,” he said.
Space Adventures announced last year that it had also reached an agreement with SpaceX to launch a Crew Dragon to take tourists on a trip into Earth orbit, but no details have been given as to when this mission might start. It has also resumed sales of tourist trips to the space station using Russian Soyuz rockets. Two customers are scheduled to take off a flight later this year.
Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese fashion entrepreneur, has also signed up for a SpaceX tourist trip, but that would be a trip around the moon in a few years with a giant rocket called Starship, which is still in development.
Those who cannot afford orbital travel will soon have cheaper options in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for short ascents and descents to the edge of space and back, where they can experience a few minutes of weightlessness.
Virgin Galactic, founded by Richard Branson, has already made several crew flights on its spaceplane. The next test is planned for the middle of the month. Amazon’s Jeffrey P. Bezos’ Blue Origin has launched its human-free suborbital New Shepard capsule and could conduct its first passenger test flights this year.