CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP)
SpaceX aimed to blast a billionaire into orbit Wednesday night with his two contest winners and a health care worker who survived childhood cancer.
It’s the first chartered passenger flight for Elon Musk’s SpaceX and a big step in space tourism by a private company.
“It blows me away, honestly,” SpaceX director Benji Reed said on the eve of launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. “It gives me goosebumps even right now to talk about it.”
The Pennsylvania entrepreneur who is picking up the tab — Jared Isaacman — won’t say how much he paid. He and his fellow passengers will spend three days orbiting Earth at an unusually high altitude of 357 miles (575 kilometers) — 100 miles (160 kilometers) higher than the International Space Station — before splashing down off the Florida coast this weekend.
SpaceX is targeting a five-hour launch window on Wednesday, September 15, opening at 8:02 p.m.
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In July, Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos launched aboard their own rockets to spur ticket sales. The flights were brief and barely reached space.
Isaacman and the others — St. Jude physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux and sweepstake winners Chris Sembroski, a data engineer, and Sian Proctor, a community college educator — said on the eve of launch that they had few if any last-minute jitters. This will mark the 60th anniversary of human spaceflight. It will also be the first time that no professional astronaut has been aboard an orbit-bound rocket.
Their fully automated capsule has already been to orbit: It was used for SpaceX’s second astronaut flight for NASA to the space station. Reed said that the only change to the capsule is the addition of a large dome window at the top, in place the space station docking mechanism.
Isaacman — founder of a payment-processing company and an accomplished pilot — said Musk has assured him “the entire leadership team is solely focused on this mission and is very confident.” He added: “That obviously inspires a lot of confidence in us as well.”
Musk flew in for the launch, as did hundreds of SpaceX workers and representatives of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Isaacman plans to use the flight to raise $200 million to support St. Jude. Half of this will come from his own pocket.
NASA does not have any role in the flight but its astronauts and managers support it.
“To me, the more people involved in it, whether private or government, the better, ” Shane Kimbrough is close to the end of his six month stay at NASA’s space station.
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