SpaceX announces the world’s first all-commercial astronaut mission to space

NASA, Apollo 7 Astronaut weigh in

HOUSTON – NASA and Apollo 7 NASA astronaut Walter Cunningham weighed in on SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission, which would be the first all-civilian astronaut mission.

Monday, SpaceX announced that by the end of the fourth quarter of this year, it will attempt Inspiration4 – the world’s first all-commercial astronaut mission to orbit from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“When humanity went to the moon in 1969, humanity went to the moon. We all went there with them, and I think it’s similar here. We’ll all be with them on the journey, and we’ll be seeing it in real time,” Elon Musk, SpaceX Founder and CEO told NBC’s Tom Costello. “It’s an important milestone towards making access to space more affordable.”

Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, is donating the three seats for other civilians to join him on the Crew Dragon. Those members of the general public will be announced in the weeks ahead. SpaceX told NBC one of the seats will go to a former childhood patient of St. Jude who is cured of cancer and is now a medical staffer at the hospital. The other seat will go to someone to be selected from among those who donate to St. Jude, no minimum or maximum contribution required and someone with an entrepreneurial vision and passion to do something positive.

NASA astronaut and Apollo 7 Lunar Module Pilot Walter Cunningham commended SpaceX for having the courage and pushing the boundaries for humanity.

“You’ve got a totally civilian crew that’s going to be launching off-- are they all marine corp fighter pilots? No, they’re not, but they have learned and benefitted from that experience, and they’re willing to learn and accomplish to move things forward,” Cunningham told KPRC 2 Space Reporter Rose-Ann Aragon.

Cunningham helped lead the first manned mission of Apollo and is a proud Marine Corp fighter pilot.

“We are now seeing kind of the public, popular set of what went on 50-60 years ago by us,” Cunningham said. “I can’t say enough about being willing to stick your necks out to move our society and our culture forward.”

NASA, though not involved in this SpaceX mission, said it is excited for the developments of a growing commercial market in lower Earth orbit. NASA Commercial Spaceflight Division Director Phil MacAlister said NASA’s Commercial Crew Program envisioned this milestone when they started the program more than a decade ago.

“It was inherently part of our strategy to enable not only NASA to fly our crews to the ISS but to also create a commercial capability where private citizens to fly to space, and now we’re seeing the fruits of that labor,” McAlister told KPRC 2. “I am personally and NASA as a whole is extremely excited with this announcement and very gratified to see after 10 years of working on Commercial Crew the kind of thing that we envisioned to have happened at this time is actually happening.”

The SpaceX Inspiration4 mission will launch from NASA Kennedy Space Center, though NASA is not involved with the mission itself. McAlister said he hopes to see more growth and missions like this in commercial spaceflight.

“You can buy a ticket to space. You don’t have to be a career astronaut, and that’s just amazingly exciting for those of us at NASA. Space is not just the per-view of NASA. It’s for everybody, and this announcement and this mission shows that that’s now possible,” McAlister said.

“The Inspiration4 crew will receive commercial astronaut training by SpaceX on the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft, orbital mechanics, operating in microgravity, zero gravity, and other forms of stress testing. They will go through emergency preparedness training, spacesuit and spacecraft ingress and egress exercises, as well as partial and full mission simulations. This multi-day journey, orbiting Earth every 90 minutes along a customized flight path, will be carefully monitored at every step by SpaceX mission control. Upon conclusion of the mission, Dragon will reenter Earth’s atmosphere for a soft water landing off the coast of Florida,” SpaceX stated on its site.

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