SpaceX continues to blaze new paths to the final frontier.
Billionaire tech entrepreneur Jared Isaacman has chartered a trip to Earth orbit with Elon Musk's company, which last year became the first private outfit to fly astronauts to the International Space Station.
The 37-year-old Isaacman, who's also an accomplished pilot, will command the four-person "Inspiration4" mission aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, he and SpaceX announced today (Feb. 1). There will be no professional astronauts aboard; Isaacman is donating the other three seats.
"It will be the first-ever all-private crewed orbital mission in history," Musk said during a teleconference with reporters today (Feb. 1).
SpaceX will use the Crew Dragon spacecraft "Resilience" for Inspiration4, Musk added. Resilience is currently docked at the International Space Station on the Crew-1 mission, SpaceX's first contracted crewed flight to the orbiting lab for NASA.
But there will be no meetup with the station on Inspiration4, which is scheduled to launch toward the end of this year. Resilience will lift off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, spend an estimated two to four days circling Earth and then come back down for an ocean splashdown.
The full arc of the mission is still being worked out, Musk said, stressing that most details will be up to Isaacman.
Inspiration4 is designed to inspire the masses to reach for the stars and to help raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Isaacman said. The hospital is a leading institution in the fight against cancer and other diseases, and it treats kids free of charge.
"Inspiration4 is the realization of a lifelong dream and a step towards a future in which anyone can venture out and explore the stars," Isaacman, the founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments and an aviation and spaceflight enthusiast since kindergarten, said in a statement. "I appreciate the tremendous responsibility that comes with commanding this mission, and I want to use this historic moment to inspire humanity while helping to tackle childhood cancer here on Earth."
Isaacman has donated two of the other three seats on the mission to St. Jude's. The hospital will give one seat to an employee, who has already been chosen but not publicly named. During today's telecon, Isaacman revealed that the employee is a woman, "and I know she's looking forward to the launch as much as me."
The other St. Jude seat will go to a member of the public via a fundraising raffle that Isaacman hopes raises a total of at least $200 million for the hospital. (He has already committed to giving St. Jude $100 million from his own pocket.) You don't have to donate any money to enter this raffle, however. To learn more, visit the Inspiration4 website.
That site also has information for anyone interested in vying for the fourth seat, which will go to "a deserving entrepreneur who utilizes the new Shift4Shop eCommerce platform," according to the statement. That entrepreneur will be chosen by a competition that runs through Feb. 28.
Inspiration4 will soon raise awareness about the mission in a big way — via a commercial that will air in the first quarter of Super Bowl LV on Sunday (Feb. 7), said Isaacman, who in 2011 co-founded Draken International, which trains pilots for the U.S. military.
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Musk said he's really excited about Inspiration4.
The mission is "an important milestone towards enabling access to space for everyone," he said during today's telecon. "At first, things are very expensive, and it's only through missions like this that we're able to bring the costs down over time and make space accessible to all."
Revenues from Inspiration4 will also help SpaceX develop Starship, its next-generation transportation system designed to get people and payloads to the moon and Mars, Musk added.
SpaceX will launch yet more private citizens to orbit not long after Inspiration4 returns home, if all goes according to plan. Houston-based Axiom Space will use Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon to get three paying customers (and former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, now a vice president at Axiom) to the International Space Station as early as January 2022.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.