San Francisco Chronicle

1st all-civilian crew sent into orbit around Earth

- By Marcia Dunn Marcia Dunn is an Associated Press writer.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX’s first private flight streaked into orbit Wednesday night with two contest winners, a health care worker and their rich sponsor, the most ambitious leap yet in space tourism.

It was the first time a spacecraft circled Earth with an all-amateur crew and no profession­al astronauts.

“Punch it, SpaceX!” the flight’s billionair­e leader, Jared Isaacman, urged moments before liftoff.

The Dragon capsule’s two men and two women are looking to spend three days going round and round the planet from an unusually high orbit — 100 miles higher than the Internatio­nal Space Station — before splashing down off the Florida coast this weekend.

It’s SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s first entry in the competitio­n for space tourism dollars.

Isaacman is the third billionair­e to launch this summer, following the brief space-skimming flights by Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos in July. Only 38, Isaacman made his fortune from a paymentpro­cessing company he started in his teens.

Joining Isaacman on the trip dubbed Inspiratio­n4 is Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a childhood bone cancer survivor who works as a physician assistant where she was treated — St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. Isaacman has pledged $100 million out of his own pocket to the hospital and is seeking another $100 million in donations.

Arceneaux became the youngest American in space and the first person in space with a prosthesis, a titanium rod in her left leg.

Also along for the ride: sweepstake­s winners Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Everett, Wash., and Sian Proctor, 51, a community college educator in Tempe, Ariz.

Once opposed to space tourism, NASA is now a supporter. “LowEarth orbit is now more accessible for more people to experience the wonders of space,” tweeted NASA Administra­tor Bill Nelson, a congressma­n when he hitched a ride on a space shuttle decades ago.

The recycled Falcon rocket soared from the same Kennedy Space Center pad used by the company’s three previous astronaut flights for NASA. But this time, the Dragon capsule aimed for an altitude of 357 miles, just beyond the Hubble Space Telescope.

Across the country, SpaceX employees at company headquarte­rs in Hawthorne, (Los Angeles County), cheered wildly at every flight milestone, including when the spent first-stage booster landed upright on an ocean platform. French astronaut Thomas Pesquet rooted from the space station on Twitter: “No matter if you’re a profession­al or not, when you get strapped to a rocket and launch into space, we have something in common. All the very best from, well, space.”

Isaacman noted upon reaching orbit that few people have been to space — fewer than 600 over 60 years. But he added, “Many are about to follow. The door’s opening now, and it’s pretty incredible.”

 ?? Associated Press ?? Chris Sembroski (left), Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman and Hayley Arceneaux sit in the capsule.
Associated Press Chris Sembroski (left), Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman and Hayley Arceneaux sit in the capsule.

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