CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: A rocket carrying four tourists and no professional astronauts on board blasted off into Earth orbit on Wednesday, marking the first commercial manned flight in the 60 years of human spaceflight.
SpaceX's first private flight is entirely funded by 38-year-old entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, who is lead the crew that includes physician assistant and cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux, 29, and two raffle winners, community college educator Sian Proctor, 51, who is a trained pilot and fellow NASA candidate, and Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer and Air Force veteran.
The four are traveling in a fully automated Dragon capsule, the same used by SpaceX to send astronauts to and from the International Space Station for NASA.
The two men and two women were launched from the Kennedy Space Center, traveling 100 miles higher than the International Space Station, to a target altitude of 357 miles, just above the Hubble Space Telescope's current position.
By comparison, Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson and Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos only briefly entered space during their short rocket journeys in July.
"This is the first step towards a world where everyday, people can go and venture among the stars," Isaacman said, stressing how investing in space now will lower future costs.
"Because it is so expensive, space has been the exclusive domain of world superpowers and the elite that they select. It should not stay that way," he said during an interview with the Associated Press.
He also pledged $100 million to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and sought to raise another $100 million when announcing the flight in February.
Isaacman gave one of the four capsule seats to the hospital, which offered it to former patient Arceneaux, who will become the youngest American to travel to space. Proctor and Sembroski claimed the other two places.
The private flight is the first organized by SpaceX, which is overseeing the entire mission, with NASA not involved.
Isaacman and SpaceX agreed that the ideal duration for orbiting the Earth is three days, which will give him and his fellow passengers enough time to admire the views outside the capsule, as well as take blood samples and conduct various medical tests.
Once opposed to the idea, NASA now supports space tourism. "I cannot wait for them to fly and fly safely and fly often," said Phil McAlister, NASA's commercial spaceflight director.