With whoops and hollers on the ground and fist bumps and thumbs ups from the crew members, Elon Musk's SpaceX venture launched the first all-civilian crew into space Wednesday night for an historic step forward in space tourism.
At just after 8 p.m. local time in Cape Canaveral, Florida on a warm, clear night, a rocket dubbed Falcon 9 blasted off, carrying the Crew Dragon Capsule, which will be home for the two men and two women for the next three days.
"You are truly inspiring the world," came the word from SpaceX mission control as the rocket blasted off. "Good luck, Godspeed and enjoy the ride."
By 12 minutes into the ride, the capsule reached the boundary of space, drawing a big cheer from mission control. The capsule is heading to an orbital altitude of 575 kilometers (357 miles) above Earth, which is beyond the orbit of the International Space Station.
The mission, called "Inspiration4" is notable for several reasons. Unlike the space flights led by billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos in July, considered the first of their kind, Musk himself is not aboard the Crew Dragon.
The four civilians include Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old billionaire who heads a payment processing company. He paid an undisclosed amount of money to help fund the trip and is dedicating it to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital for cancer patients.
Hayley Arceneaux is a bone cancer survivor who later began working for St. Jude. Chris Sembroski is an Air Force veteran and aerospace data engineer who won his seat in a sweepstakes drawing, while Sian Proctor, a community college educator in the state of Arizona, won her seat by winning an entrepreneurial contest held by Isaacman. Proctor's father worked for NASA during the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 70s and she just missed a chance to become an astronaut herself in 2009.
Also, Inspiration4 will go far deeper and spend a much longer time in space than the flights by Branson and Bezos, which both briefly entered space and then landed on solid ground. The Crew Dragon will eventually splash down somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.
Most notably, there are no seasoned astronauts on board, although Isaacman has experience as a jet pilot.
The four crew members have been undergoing intense space training since March, and while they are in space, their health will be continuously monitored.
Musk has talked about his desire to eventually colonize Mars, and he, like Branson and Bezos, hopes to use such flights to eventually make space tourism available for the masses.
Prior to liftoff, the four crew members talked at length about their favorite space movies: "Star Trek" or "Star Wars." After liftoff, one of them could be seen making the "live long and prosper" hand gesture from "Star Trek."