USA TODAY International Edition

You can win a seat on the SpaceX Dragon

- Emre Kelly

A tech billionair­e will command Space X’s first all- civilian launch to orbit later this year, the company said Monday, but the mission includes a twist: Members of the public can enter to fly in one of Crew Dragon’s seats.

Jared Isaacman, a payment systems entreprene­ur and avid pilot, confirmed he purchased a Crew Dragon mission from SpaceX for a multiday trip around Earth slated to launch from Kennedy Space Center before the end of the year. The 37- year- old is the founder of Shift4 Payments and worth about $ 2 billion, according to Forbes’ real- time database of billionair­es.

SpaceX is well- known for twists – Elon Musk did launch his own Tesla to deep space, after all – so this Inspiratio­n4 mission is allowing members of the public to join the trip that will complete an Earth orbit every 90 minutes. Isaacman has partnered with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, in an effort to raise $ 200 million or more for the facility.

“If we’re going to continue making advances up there in space, then we have an obligation to do the same down here on Earth,” Isaacman told reporters during a Monday teleconfer­ence.

“That’s why Inspiratio­n4 endeavors to mobilize the biggest fundraisin­g and awareness campaign in the 59- year history of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.”

Of the four seats on Crew Dragon:

One goes to Isaacman, who will h command and pilot the mission.

■ The second seat, labeled “Hope,” will go to a front- line health care worker from St. Jude. Isaacman confirmed a woman will fly as a representa­tive for the hospital but did not confirm her identity.

■ Named “Generosity,” the third seat will go to a member of the public who donates to St. Jude at inspiratio­n4. com. Packages include $ 10 for 100 entries and run up to $ 100,000 for 10,000 entries, VIP viewing tickets and aerobatic flights in a retired Russian MiG fighter.

■ The final “Prosperity” seat will go to an entreprene­ur who uses Isaacman’s online shopping platform, Shift4Shop, to set up a website and share the story via Twitter.

Though already open to donations, the Inspiratio­n4 fundraisin­g effort will begin in earnest during the Super Bowl on Sunday when a commercial aired during the game’s first quarter will invite people to learn more at inspiratio­n4. com. An announceme­nt of winners is expected in a month.

All four crew members will be trained for the mission directly by SpaceX. That includes emergency preparedne­ss, spacesuit and spacecraft ingress and egress, and simulation­s at the company’s headquarte­rs in Hawthorne, California.

The Crew Dragon vehicle that will take Inspiratio­n4 to orbit is already there: Resilience, which launched astronauts Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi to the Internatio­nal Space Station in November, was selected for this fully commercial flight. Its destinatio­n will strictly be Earth orbit – no visits to the ISS, for example.

Musk told reporters Monday that, for the most part, people who can handle “The Incredible Hulk” roller coaster at Universal Orlando should be able to manage a ride on Crew Dragon. All “dragon riders” will go through standard medical screenings before launch.

Whether or not non- U. S. citizens will be able to fly, however, remains to be seen.

“This is an important milestone towards enabling access to space for everyone,” Musk said. “It’s only through missions like this that we’re able to bring the cost down over time and make space accessible to all.”

Musk confirmed missions such as this one – profitable flights on SpaceX’s reusable spacecraft – will allow his company to continue funding Starship and Super Heavy, the next- generation deep space vehicle being built in Texas.

 ?? PROVIDED BY SPACEX ?? The crew access arm, used by astronauts to enter the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, stands ready at Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A in Florida.
PROVIDED BY SPACEX The crew access arm, used by astronauts to enter the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, stands ready at Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A in Florida.

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