Yet another billionaire entrepreneur is set to ride into space this week, strapped inside the capsule of a SpaceX rocketship as part of an astro-tourist team poised to make history as the first all-civilian crew launched into Earth orbit.
Jared Isaacman, the American founder and chief executive of e-commerce firm Shift4 Payments, will lead three fellow spaceflight novices on a three-day trip from blastoff at Cape Canaveral, Fla., to splashdown in the Atlantic.
The 38-year-old tech mogul has plunked down an unspecified but presumably exorbitant sum for fellow billionaire and SpaceX owner Elon Musk to fly Isaacman and three specially selected travel mates into orbit aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.
The crew vehicle, dubbed Resilience, was set for liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center atop one of Musk’s reusable Falcon 9 rockets, with a five-hour targeted launch window that opens at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
Forecasts on Sunday predicted a 70 per cent chance of favourable weather conditions for launch, organizers said, on a flight directed entirely from the ground.
A successful flight could spawn a new era of commercial space tourism, with several firms vying for wealthy customers to pay a small fortune to experience the exhilaration of supersonic travel, weightlessness and the visual spectacle of space.
Setting acceptable levels of consumer risk in the inherently dangerous endeavour of rocket travel is also key, and raises a pointed question.
“Do you have to be both rich and brave to get on these flights right now?” Sridhar Tayur, a professor of operations management and new business models at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, asked in an interview with Reuters on Friday.
The so-called Inspiration4 mission was conceived by Isaacman mainly to raise awareness and support for one of his favourite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading pediatric cancer centre.
He has pledged $100 million US personally to the institute.
Beyond the billionaire space race
SpaceX is easily the most well-established player in the burgeoning constellation of commercial rocket ventures, having already launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA.
Rival companies Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin both recently celebrated their debut astro-tourism missions with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, each going along for the ride.
But those two high-profile flights were suborbital in scale, sending their crews of citizen astronauts to space and back in a matter of minutes.
The SpaceX flight is designed to carry its four passengers where no all-civilian crew has gone before, into Earth orbit.
There, they will circle the globe once every 90 minutes at more than 27,360 km/h, or…