Elon Musk has always envisioned space travel to be as economical as air travel, though naturally still more expensive. SpaceX’s mission is to make that true not just for government-funded missions and research but also for commercial space tourism. The company has already gotten most launches and landings down to a “T,” but there are still some goals to be checked off from its list. At least two of those have been completed now that the Inspiration4 mission is underway, transporting four civilians around the Earth for about three days at a record-breaking altitude.
The Crew Dragon carrying these four non-professional astronauts successfully took off from the Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 8:02 pm EDT on September 15. For the next three days, it will be circling the Earth before finally splashing down somewhere along the Florida coast, hopefully safely as well. At this point, however, SpaceX already achieved some historical firsts, putting it once again at the top of the space race.
This mission has been billed as the first to involve only civilians without any trained astronaut onboard. Of course, “civilian” can mean different things, and at least two of the four passengers are trained pilots. They are, of course, professionals in their own fields, including mission commander Jared Isaacman, the CEO of a payment processing company.
The other historical milestone is the Dragon capsule’s altitude of 575km (360mi) above the Earth’s surface, the highest that a crewed mission has ever gone in over a decade. That’s higher than the Hubble Telescope at 540 km where the last record-setting crewed mission went in 2019. That mission naturally involved NASA’s retired Space Shuttle, which the space agency is working to replace with private commissions from companies like SpaceX.
While the Inspiration4 mission is focused on research, particularly on the effects of spending days in orbit on the body, it also paves the ground for less noble pursuits. In the near future, SpaceX plans on providing commercial space travel to similarly untrained passengers. In fact, the company is scheduled to take a Russian movie director and an actress to the International Space Station in October as its next “private” mission.