SpaceX has announced plans to launch the first all-civilian mission into Earth's orbit later this year.
The multiday flight is to be led by US tech billionaire Jared Isaacman. He will be joined by three other civilians for a journey into space, with one of the passengers to be determined by a raffle. Any adult US citizen who donates to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital during the month of February will automatically be entered into a random draw for the seat.
Isaacman has also bought an ad during the upcoming Super Bowl, the US football championship final, in a bid to publicize the flight. The mission has been dubbed Inspiration 4.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime adventure: a journey into outer space on the first all-civilian space flight," said a website dedicated to the mission.
Trip to raise millions for charity
Isaacman, who made his fortune in tech and fighter jets, is financing the entire SpaceX flight.
He aims to use the private trip to raise $200 million (€166 million) for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which treats childhood cancers and pediatric diseases. The other half will come from Isaacman's own pockets.
A female health care worker at St. Jude has already been selected for the mission. Another seat will go to a business owner who uses Shift4 Payments, Isaacman's credit card processing company, while the last one is reserved for the winner of the charity raffle.
SpaceX, the company started by Elon Musk, said the names of the other passengers "will be announced in the weeks ahead."
One small step for man, one giant leap for space tourism
Isaacman, who turns 38 next week, has long dreamed of normalizing space travel and opening it up to tourists.
"I truly want us to live in a world 50 or 100 years from now where people are jumping in their rockets like the Jetsons and there are families bouncing around on the moon with their kid in a spacesuit," he told The Associated Press news agency, referencing a classic 1960s US cartoon about a futuristic family.
The entrepreneur did not divulge how much he was paying SpaceX, except to say that the anticipated donation to St. Jude "vastly exceeds the cost of the mission."
NASA turned to SpaceX and Boeing after retiring its space shuttle program in 2011.
By 2024, the agency is expended to spend over $8 billion on the commercial crew program handled by the two private companies. The goal is to have the private sector take care of NASA's needs in "low Earth orbit," allowing NASA to focus on return missions to the moon and eventually to Mars.
SpaceX plans to launch two more professionally crewed flights for NASA later this year, as well as four cargo refueling missions over the next 15 months.
mb/dj (AP, AFP)