The first all-civilian mission to orbit Earth is set to take off tonight, within a five-hour launch window that opens at 8:02 p.m. ET. SpaceX (SPACE) will power the expedition, known as Inspiration4, using one of its Dragon capsules atop a reusable Falcon 9 rocket. It'll also be proof of concept for the broader private spaceflight industry, which hopes to send many more people to space in the coming years and push even deeper into the solar system.
Inspiration4 will be commanded by Shift4 Payments (NYSE:FOUR) CEO and accomplished pilot Jared Isaacman. While the civilian mission is part of a charity initiative to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, it's being seen as a coming-of-age moment for an adolescent commercial spaceflight market. The crew of four will spend three days in orbit and perform a number of medical experiments like gathering data about their "movement, sleep, heart rate and rhythm, and blood oxygen saturation levels." That information will be crucial for coming missions as more astronauts blast into the heavens (only 600 people have been to space in history).
The latest endeavor supported by SpaceX will go well beyond the International Space Station at a height of 360 miles above Earth. That compares to the recent flights of Virgin Galactic's (NYSE:SPCE) Richard Branson (50 miles up) and Blue Origin's (BORGN) Jeff Bezos (65 miles up), who squabbled over the definition of space during their suborbital flights in July. "We'd like to see aircraft like - airline, like - operations from a human spaceflight perspective, and so this chance to have our first commercial all-civilian flight is awesome," said Benji Reed, SpaceX director of human spaceflight.