SpaceX launches Inspiration4 to orbit – ushering in new era of human spaceflight

inspiration4 launch engines

SpaceX launched their first non-NASA crewed mission, Inspiration4, to orbit using their Dragon spacecraft on Wednesday night. The crew members are not professional astronauts, but average citizens. They were not selected based on the strict requirements of previous astronauts, but instead for their ability to represent and inspire the world.

After months of training Jared Issacman, Sian Proctor, Hayley Arceneaux, and Chris Sembroski rode their Dragon spacecraft into orbit without a hitch. The mission aims to inspire a generation of future astronauts and engineers throughout the three-day stay in orbit. The crew members were selected to represent the pillars of leadership, hope, prosperity, and generosity.

Inspiration4 launched from LC-39A at Kennedy Space Center — the place where many firsts have taken place. The pad has seen missions to the Moon, Space Shuttle launches, and now the first all-civilian mission to orbit. This launch has truly begun a new era of spaceflight.

Liftoff of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and the Inspiration4 crew. Credit: Jared Locke / Space Explored

New SpaceX facilites for commerical crew missions

We saw some differences between this launch and previous crewed launches. Inspiration4 is not a NASA mission, so no NASA buildings were used. SpaceX, for the first time, used its own facilities for all crew activities. The launch activities started at the brand new Hanger X facility — SpaceX’s new building used for refurbishing Falcon 9 rockets. Now we know it also plays a role in commercial crew missions as well. The building is likely used for final preparations for the crew before being driven away for suit-up.

Jared Issacman and Chris Sembroski drive past the press site from Hanger X to the Falcon Support Building. Credit: Derek Wise / Space Explored

The second facility we got to see was a glimpse at SpaceX’s suit-up rooms in the Falcon Support Building. This building is located just outside the gates of LC-39A and is used for various purposes. On Wednesday it was used for Inspiration4 crew suit-up prior to launch.

The timeline for the launch matched NASA’s crewed missions — the only difference being the different buildings. These facilities will only be used for private crewed missions while the iconic Operations and Checkout building will be used for NASA missions.

Inspiration4 gives picture perfect launch

Any concern for a weather-related scrub dissipated as we got closer to launch. Launch teams were able to stick to the 8:02 p.m. EDT launch time. The skies were clear. With the sun just recently set, the Falcon 9 gave a beautiful display of RCS thrusters and engine exhaust as it flew into the upper atmosphere.

Falcon 9’s second stage exhaust lit up by the sun in the upper atmosphere. Credit: Inspiration4 / John Kruas

Currently, the crew is in a nominal orbit, flying at an altitude of 585 km. This is the highest SpaceX’s Dragon capsule has ever flown and 4th highest humans have flown in orbit around the Earth, excluding the Apollo missions.

The Inspiration4 crew are expected to return this weekend but have the capability to stay in orbit until next week if need be.

Featured Image: Derek Wise / Space Explored

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