SpaceX’s first private flight blasted off Wednesday night with two contest winners, a health care worker, and their rich sponsor, the most ambitious leap yet in space tourism. It was the first time a rocket streaked toward orbit with an all-amateur crew—no professional astronauts. The Dragon capsule’s two men and two women are looking to spend three days circling the world from an unusually high orbit—100 miles higher than the International Space Station—before splashing down off the Florida coast this weekend, the AP reports. The mission, dubbed Inspiration4, is SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s first entry in the competition for space tourism dollars. Unlike NASA missions, the public won’t be able to listen in, let alone watch events unfold in real time.
Leading the flight is Jared Isaacman, 38, who made his fortune with a payment-processing company he started in his teens. Isaacman is the third billionaire to launch this summer, following the brief space-skimming flights by Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos in July. Joining Isaacman on the trip is Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a childhood cancer survivor who works as a physician assistant where she was treated—St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Isaacman has pledged $100 million out of his own pocket to the hospital and is seeking another $100 million in donations. Arceneaux is set to become the youngest American in space and the first person in space with a prosthesis, a titanium rod in her left leg.
Also along for the ride: sweepstakes winners Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer in Everett, Wash., and Sian Proctor, 51, a community college educator in Tempe, Ariz. The recycled Falcon rocket soared from the same Kennedy Space Center pad used by the company’s three previous astronaut flights for NASA. Isaacman, whose Shift4 Payments company is based in Allentown, Pa., is picking up the entire tab for the flight but won’t say how many millions he paid. SpaceX’s next private trip, early next year, will see a retired NASA astronaut escorting three wealthy businessmen to the space station for a weeklong visit. The Russians are launching an actress, film director, and a Japanese tycoon to the space station in the next few months. (Read more SpaceX stories.)