Imminent takeoff for four tourists aboard SpaceX’s Falcon9 rocket

Océane Théard, edited by Clément Perruche with AFP

Can four humans who have never been to space before spend three days alone in orbit around the Earth, having only trained for a few months? This is the challenge launched by SpaceX, whose first space tourism mission is due to take off on Wednesday night. Called Inspiration4, it is the first mission in history to send only novices into orbit, with no professional astronauts on board.

15 rounds of the earth a day

Takeoff is expected to take place from 20:02 (12:02 French time), with a launch window of five hours and favorable weather at the moment. The Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the Dragon capsule on top, will be propelled from the mythical Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Center in Florida, from where the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon took off.

For Jean-François Clervoy, an astronaut at the European Space Agency (ESA), this is a “great debut”, as unlike the Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin missions, which last between two and three minutes, the Inspiration4 mission lasts three days. “They’re going to go around the world sixteen times a day, so a panorama of the Earth from every angle. They will live, share meals and sleep periods”, explains the astronaut. Another particularity: the four neo-astronauts will have no operational task to fulfill. “They will live it fully, with their guts, being in touch with the control center. And it will continue to be a very strong time in their lives.”

The four Americans on board will travel beyond the International Space Station (ISS) to a target orbit of 575 km and circumnavigate the globe approximately 15 times a day. At the end of their journey, they will begin a dizzying descent to land on the coast of Florida, slowed by huge parachutes.

Four strangers in the capsule

The mission was chartered by billionaire Jared Isaacman, 38, the head of a financial services company and a seasoned pilot. He will be the captain on board and has offered three other seats to strangers. Hayley Arceneaux, a childhood cancer survivor, is a 29-year-old medical assistant. She will be the youngest American to enter orbit. Chris Sembroski, 42, is a former US Air Force veteran who now works in the aviation industry. Finally, Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old earth science teacher, was almost selected in 2009 to become a NASA astronaut. She will be only the fourth African-American woman to go into space.

The stated goal: to represent a turning point in the democratization of space, proving that the cosmos is also accessible to people who were not handpicked and trained for many years as astronauts. For SpaceX, this is nothing short of a first step towards a multiplanetary humanity – Elon Musk’s ultimate vision.

“We realize how lucky we are and we’re trying to be very careful in our approach, to set the standard for the missions to follow,” Jared Isaacman said at a conference Tuesday. “It’s just begun.”

six months of training

On board, your biological data (heart rate, sleep, etc.) They will also undergo tests before and after the trip, to measure the effect on their bodies. His training only lasted about six months. The flight would normally remain fully automated, but the crew was trained by SpaceX to be able to take over in an emergency.

They were also physically tested. Together, they took a 3,000-meter snow hike in the American Northwest and experienced the G-force they will be exposed to thanks to a centrifuge (fast rotating long arm) and jet flight.

A booming sector

This mission concludes a summer marked by the flight of billionaires over the final frontier: first Richard Branson on July 11, aboard the Virgin Galactic, then a few days later Jeff Bezos, with his company Blue Origin. This is the fourth time that Elon Musk’s company, which in a few years has become a giant in the sector, has sent humans into space, after having transported 10 astronauts to the ISS on behalf of NASA.

There have already been tourists in space: wealthy personalities, for example, went to the ISS between 2001 and 2009, aboard Russian rockets. But the advent of private enterprise programs now marks a turning point. SpaceX plans other space tourism flights, including one in January 2022 that will transport three businessmen to the ISS.

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