On the evening of Wednesday, September 15th, history will be made as a crew of four commercial astronauts launch to orbit aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft Resilience. This flight will be operated by SpaceX, sponsored by Jared Isaacman (CEO of Shift4Payments) and represents the first all-civilian spaceflight in history. The launch will take place tonight at 08:00 PM EDT (05:00 PM PDT) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A.

The purpose of this mission is to raise awareness and funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which specializes in the treatment of childhood cancers and pediatric diseases. At the same time, it demonstrates the accessibility of the modern space age, where civilians (and not just astronauts) can go to space. Universe Today’s own Alex Brock was on the scene to capture the pre-flight excitement, which was palatable!

Preparations for this mission reached the final stage as the crew members arrived in Florida last week (Thurs. Sept. 9th), where the spacecraft and rocket that will take them to space were also undergoing their final checks. The mission will launch from the historic Launch Complex 39A, where the Apollo and Space Shuttle missions also launched. The Resilience spacecraft also has a significant history, being the same vehicle used for the NASA-SpaceX Crew-1 mission.

Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Alex Brock

That mission effectively restored domestic launch capability to the US, something that it did not possess since the retirement of the Space Shuttle. Back in April, SpaceX conducted a second crewed mission that delivered astronauts to the ISS (the Crew-2 mission), once again using a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft. Tonight, these launched-tested and crew-capable vehicles will be achieving another milestone as they transport a crew of entirely commercial astronauts to orbit.

This flight is also the latest in a series of spaceflights that have seen civilians earn their wings by flying to space. This past July, Richard Branson flew with a civilian crew aboard Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity to the edge of space, which was followed nine days later by Jeff Bezos and three friends flying aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard on its first crewed flight. However, these missions involved flights to the Kármán Line – 100 km (62 mi) above sea level – which is the official boundary of “space.”

In contrast, the Inspiration4 crew will fly to an apogee of 575 km (357 mi), placing them in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) where they will spend the next three days. During the flight, the crew will experience breathtaking views of Earth from space thanks to the nose-mounted cupola. This was a special addition for the Inspiration4 mission and was installed where the capsule’s front airlock usually sits, which allows it to dock with the International Space Station (ISS).

The spacecraft will also carry scientific equipment that will allow for microgravity research and experimentation while in orbit. After spending a total of three days in space, the Resilience will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere (scheduled to happen sometime on Sept. 19th). The spacecraft and crew will then splash down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida, where they will be retrieved by the GO Navigator recovery vessel.

The Falcon 9 rocket and Resilience spacecraft
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