SpaceX launches first all-tourist crew into orbit

By Jackie Wattles, Fernando Alfonso III and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 0146 GMT (0946 HKT) September 16, 2021
17 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
9:00 p.m. ET, September 15, 2021

Here's how the space tourists will spend their next 3 days in orbit

The four tourists aboard Inspiration4 have every hour planned over the next three days in space.

They'll have time to talk to their families — using NASA's TDRS communications system —and will also be conducting experiments.

Hayley Arceneaux, for example, will also talk to her patients at St. Jude, where she works as a physician assistant.

The crew will also be able to check out their surroundings through a big dome window called the Copula — the same name they gave to the viewing window on the International Space Station. They all will have plenty of time to take in views of the Earth and cosmos.

The living quarters: The Dragon Capsule, called Resilience, has been used on one other mission. It is 13-feet wide.

The last mission it flew was SpaceX's Crew-1 mission, which ferried four astronauts to the ISS.

8:32 p.m. ET, September 15, 2021

The crew of Inspiration4 is officially in orbit

(SpaceX)
(SpaceX)

The crew of the Inspiration4, the first-ever orbital flight crewed entirely by tourists, is now officially in orbit, according to a livestream from SpaceX. 

The SpaceX rocket blasted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center just after 8 p.m. ET.

The crew includes 38-year-old billionaire Jared Isaacman, who personally financed the trip; Hayley Arceneux, 29, a childhood cancer survivor and current St. Jude physician assistant; Sian Proctor, 51, a geologist and community college teacher with a PhD; and Chris Sembroski, a 42-year-old Lockheed Martin employee and lifelong space fan who claimed his seat through an online raffle. 

The passengers will now spend three days aboard their 13-foot-wide Crew Dragon capsule in orbit at a 350-mile altitude.

8:12 p.m. ET, September 15, 2021

The bottom part of the rocket is now on its way back to Earth

Inspiration4 — the first-ever orbital flight crewed entirely by tourists — is on its way to orbit, and the bottom part of the rocket has just detached.

This happened right on schedule: Two and a half minutes after launch, the bottom part of the rocket, the largest section that gives the initial thrust at liftoff, was expected to shut down its engines — at moment referred to as Main Engine Cutoff or MECO — and detach.

That part of the rocket, with most of its fuel spent, is now headed back down to Earth for a pinpoint landing on a seafaring platform so that SpaceX can refurbish and fly the rocket again — which is all part of the company's plan to save money and make spaceflight cheaper.

9:28 p.m. ET, September 15, 2021

We have liftoff: Inspiration4 has launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center

(SpaceX)
(SpaceX)

History has been made as Inspiration4 — the first-ever orbital flight crewed entirely by tourists — launched this evening from NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

The four passengers onboard will spend three days aboard their 13-foot-wide Crew Dragon capsule freeflying through orbit at a 350-mile altitude — 100 miles higher than where the International Space Station orbits. 

The crew is expected to return to Earth this Saturday.

Watch the moment:

8:02 p.m. ET, September 15, 2021

We're moments away from the expected launch. Here's what to expect after liftoff.

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

(SpaceX)
(SpaceX)

We're just minutes away from the expected launch of SpaceX's Inspiration4, the first-ever orbital flight crewed entirely by tourists.

When the countdown clock hits zero, the Falcon 9 rocket will fire up its engines and roar toward space.

Here's what will happen in the moments after that:

  • About one minute later, the rocket will hit “Max Q,” an aerospace term that refers to the point during flight at which a vehicle experiences its maximum dynamic pressure. Put simply: It’s when the rocket is moving at very high speed, at a time when the atmosphere is still pretty thick, putting a lot of pressure on the vehicle.  
  • Two and a half minutes after launch, the bottom part of the rocket, the largest section that gives the initial thrust at liftoff, will shut down its engines — at moment referred to as Main Engine Cutoff or MECO — and detach. That part of the rocket, with most of its fuel spent, will then head back down to Earth for a pinpoint landing on a seafaring platform so that SpaceX can refurbish and fly the rocket again (All part of the company's plan to save money and make spaceflight cheaper.)
  • Meanwhile, the second stage of the rocket, still attached to the crew capsule, will fire up its engine and continue accelerating faster and faster until it spends its fuel and reaches orbital velocities — or more than 17,000 miles per hour.
  • About 12 minutes post-liftoff, the second stage will detach from the crew capsule.
  • What's left of the rocket will be discarded in the ocean, while the Crew Dragon capsule and its four passengers will begin its three-day free-fly through orbit.
  • All the intense G-forces will be over, and the crew will be weightless. The tip of the capsule, called the nosecone, will open to reveal a large dome-shaped window. And the capsule will use its onboard thrusters to orient it into the correct orbit.
7:48 p.m. ET, September 15, 2021

SpaceX is loading 1 million pounds of propellant onto the rocket

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

(SpaceX)
(SpaceX)

Crews at NASA's Kennedy Space Center are fueling up the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will take the Inspiration4 crew to space.

The rocket will take on 1 million pounds of fuel ahead of lift off. The launch window opens at 8:02 p.m. ET.

The rocket will take on 1 million pounds of fuel, including liquid oxygen and the aptly named RP-1 — or rocket propellant 1, ahead of lift off. The plumes of what looks like smoke coming off the rocket are actually just liquid oxygen vaporizing off the rocket, boiling off as it comes in contact with the hot Florida air.

7:42 p.m. ET, September 15, 2021

All systems are "green and go" ahead of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch

From CNN’s Aaron Cooper and Jackie Wattles

Weather, range, and all systems are “green and go” for the launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, according to a livestream from the company. 

This mission, dubbed Inspiration4, is the first orbital mission in the history of spaceflight to be staffed entirely by tourists or otherwise non-astronauts.

The company is targeting a launch at the opening of the window at 8:02 p.m. ET. 

Rocket fuel is now being loaded into the Falcon 9 rocket, according to the livestream. 

The retractable gangway the crew used to board the spacecraft has been pulled back and the emergency abort system for the Crew Dragon capsule has been armed. 

7:40 p.m. ET, September 15, 2021

What the families are saying: "We are anxious, we are nervous"

From CNN Business' Jackie Wattles

In a Netflix documentary about this launch, family members of the passengers talked about their excitement — and anxieties — about this mission. Here's what they had to say.

I think being the partner, there is this expectation that we are proud — that we are grateful, and we are happy to be here. And the reality is that yes, we are all of those things but we also are anxious, and we also are nervous.” - Chris Sembroski's wife, Erin Sembroski

Chris and Erin Sembroski in the Netflix documentary 'Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission To Space'.
Chris and Erin Sembroski in the Netflix documentary 'Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission To Space'.

Hayley Arceneaux’s mother, Colleen Arceneaux, said she was haunted by the story of Christa McAuliffe, the school teacher who was slated to be one of the first civilian astronauts to go to space but died in the Challenger disaster.

I try not to go there, but of course, I do....Christa McAuliffe's parents' faces, you know pops into my head....I'm not thinking about [Hayley] being in space. I'm thinking about today. I think, similar to when she was going through treatment, one day at a time. I know the people behind the scenes, and I'm very confident. But of course, you know, as a mother, I have those worries. "
Jared Isaacman and his family.
Jared Isaacman and his family.

It's weird like now that we're getting closer to it, you start dreaming about the stuff like, good and bad, right. Like, you start thinking about what could happen, risks that are involved. I'm trying to be excited for him and show him how proud I am, but you have your good days and you have your bad days.” - Jared Isaacman's wife, Monica Isaacman

7:31 p.m. ET, September 15, 2021

What the crew ate before the flight — and what they'll eat in space

From CNN Business' Jackie Wattles

Jared Isaacman, left, and Hayley Arceneaux prepare to head to launchpad 39A for a launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday Sept. 15, 2021.
Jared Isaacman, left, and Hayley Arceneaux prepare to head to launchpad 39A for a launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday Sept. 15, 2021.

Before heading out to the launch pad, the crew had a quick meal that included steak and eggs — a classic pre-flight meal at Kennedy Space Center. Proctor told CNN Business' Rachel Crane that she also ordered up a chocolate smoothie. Arceneaux said she requested a glazed donut. But Isaacman said he opted for just a black coffee.

"I'm not a breakfast person," he said.

The crew was also able to request specific foods to enjoy in orbit — as long as it's zero-gravity friendly.

"The cold pizza better be packed because that was my order," Proctor told reporters Tuesday.