Herald staff and news services
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — An Everett resident and three other civilians are scheduled to fly into space Wednesday with no professional astronauts on board. The Inspiration4 mission is billed as the first all-civilian orbital space flight.
The crew is led by billionaire businessman Jared Isaacman, 38, of Washington, New Jersey, an experienced pilot who is paying for the mission and will serve as commander. He will be joined by Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer who lives in Everett; geoscientist and college professor Sian Proctor, 51, of Phoenix; and physician’s assistant Hayley Arceneaux, 29, of Memphis, Tennessee.
They will ride in a SpaceX craft called Crew Dragon Resilience atop a Falcon 9 rocket and blast off from Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39A. It’s the same configuration that SpaceX uses to send astronauts to and from the International Space Station for NASA. Dragon capsules have carried humans just twice previously.
A five-hour launch window opens at 5:02 p.m. Pacific time. Should there be a lengthy delay, another launch window opens about the same time Thursday. The automated Dragon capsule will soar 100 miles higher than the space station, aiming for an altitude of 357 miles, just above the current position of the Hubble Space Telescope. The four will orbit Earth for about three days before returning for a splashdown off the coast of Florida, in either the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.
Sembroski, a former Air Force missile technician who moved to Everett in 2007, is a reliability engineer with Lockheed Martin who works from home. He entered an open lottery by donating to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He didn’t win, but a friend from his college days did and gave him the slot. He is married to Erin Duncan-Sembroski, an English teacher at Explorer Middle School south of Everett, and the couple has two girls.
When he announced the flight in February, Isaacman pledged $100 million to St. Jude and aims to raise another $100 million in donations.
Arceneaux works at St. Jude and was treated there as a childhood cancer patient. She had much of her left thigh bone replaced with a titanium rod. She’ll be the first person in space with a prosthesis. At 29, she’ll also be the youngest American in space, beating the late Sally Ride, who became the first American woman in space in 1983 at age 32.
Isaacman’s idea of fun is flying fighter jets. He quit high school and started his own payment-processing company, Shift4 Payments in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He segued into aviation, founding Draken International for tactical aircraft training.
While he won’t divulge what he’s paying for the flight, Isaacman acknowledges the “worthwhile debates” over whether the wealthy should spend their fortunes fixing problems on Earth, versus sightseeing in space. But he contends investing in space now will lower costs in the future. “Because it’s so expensive, space has been the exclusive domain of world superpowers and the elite that they select,” he told The Associated Press last week.
Like Sembroski, Proctor won her seat in a competition. The community college educator in Tempe, Arizona, and former geology instructor beat out 200 other Shift4 Payments clients with her space-themed artwork business. Also a pilot, Proctor was a NASA astronaut finalist more than a decade ago.
Sembroski grew up in Kannapolis, North Carolina, outside Charlotte. As a teenager, he took to late-night stargazing from the roof of his high school. By college, he had moved on to launching high-powered model rockets.
About 20 years ago, Sembroski was helping inspire kids as a Space Camp counselor in Huntsville, Alabama. Sembroski helped conduct simulated Space Shuttle missions and encouraged kids to concentrate on STEM subjects.
Along with maintaining Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles in Montana, Sembroski was deployed to Iraq while in the Air Force.
This is SpaceX’s first private flight and the company is running the show — NASA isn’t involved. But the leased launch pad used by SpaceX is the same one used by Apollo moonwalkers, shuttle astronauts and all three previous SpaceX-flown NASA crews.
Space tourism has never been hotter, and Inspiration4 will be the most ambitious private space mission to date — the third major landmark in the burgeoning industry this year after Virgin Galactic’s flight of founder Richard Branson and others aboard the VSS Unity craft and Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos’ trip on the New Shepard rocket. Both those flights were quick trips up to 53 miles for Virgin Galactic and 66 miles for Blue Origin, which allow for a short time of weightlessness and views of the curvature of the Earth before heading back for landing.
Too busy to launch himself, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has two tourist flights to the space station coming up in the next year — the first as early as January — and also a private moonshot in the works.
As the private Inspiration4 flight’s benefactor, Isaacman, sees it: “This is the first step toward a world where everyday people can go and venture among the stars.”
The Associated Press and the Orlando Sentinel contributed.