SpaceX has launched a billionaire-funded crew of space tourists into orbit – the first civilian mission of its kind

inspiration4 crew members pose in spacesuits in front of grey wall side-by-side image with falcon 9 rocket launches at night
The Inspiration4 crew lifted off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on September 15, 2021.

A SpaceX rocket just screamed into the skies above Cape Canaveral, Florida, lifting something no orbital rocket ever had before: a spaceship filled with amateurs.

Regular people and wealthy tourists have launched into Earth’s orbit before, but always accompanied by professional astronauts. All four people who lifted off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket at 8:02 p.m. ET on Wednesday are civilians with non-astronaut day jobs. They’re a billionaire high-school dropout, a geoscientist, a physician-assistant, and an engineer.

The group has been training for a little over five months. Now they’re in Earth’s orbit, where they’ll drift for three days, venturing farther from our planet than any human has since 2009. Their mission is called Inspiration4.

The group launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, but otherwise the government agency has nothing to do with this.

Billionaire Jared Isaacman chartered the flight from SpaceX and is both footing the bill and commanding the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship. He gave the other three seats to Dr. Sian Proctor, a geoscientist who serves as an analogue astronaut in simulations of long-term Mars missions; Hayley Arceneaux, who survived bone cancer as a child and now works at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; and Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran who works for Lockheed Martin.

“I can’t express enough how appreciative we are of this amazing opportunity, we know that the four of us are about to have an experience that only about 600 or so had before us,” Isaacman said in a press conference on Tuesday. “We’re very focused on making sure that we give back every bit of that time that we get on orbit for the people and the causes that matter most to us.”

inspiration4 crew poses in front of falcon 9 rocket that's laying sideways on runway at night
The Inspiration4 crew poses in front of the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spaceship that will launch them into space. Left to right: Chris Sembroski, Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, and Sian Proctor.

Through the flight, Isaacman aims to raise a total of $200 million for St. Jude for pediatric-cancer research by asking for donations online and auctioning items the crew is taking to space. That’s in addition to $100 million he’s already donated himself.

“There are real problems and real obligations we have to pay attention to here on Earth in order to earn the right to make progress for tomorrow,” Isaacman said.

After liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket carried the spaceship close to orbit, then the rocket’s booster detached and fell back to Earth, landing on a drone ship at sea to fly again another day. After that, the rocket’s upper stage gave the Crew Dragon a final push before it, too, broke away.

That left the Crew Dragon and its passengers drifting above our planet 13 minutes after liftoff. The spaceship’s cabin – where the four crew members will spend the next three days – has about as much room as a walk-in closet.

Now that they’re in orbit, the group can strip off their spacesuits. They plan to eat cold pizza for dinner.

Science, art, and views from 355 miles above Earth

crew dragon spaceship above earth with glass dome cupola beneath nosecone
An illustration of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship with a glass dome “cupola” at its nose.

Since Inspiration4 isn’t going to the space station, SpaceX replaced the port the spaceship usually uses for docking with a rounded window – a cupola designed to maximize the spaceship passengers’ views of Earth.

While they’re in orbit, as high as 355 miles up, the crew will enjoy 15 sunrises and sunsets each day.

To pass the time, they plan to collect data for research about how spaceflight affects the human body. Since they’re going so high, they’ll be exposed to more radiation than astronauts on the space station, which orbits at an altitude of about 250 miles. Data about how that affects the passengers’ bodies could inform research and planning related to longer-term human spaceflight to places like the moon and Mars.

So Isaacman, Proctor, Arceneaux, and Sembroski will take each other’s vitals, draw blood samples, scan their organs with an ultrasound device, and take cognitive tests on a tablet.

They’ll also carve out time for fun. Sembroski brought a ukulele to play. Proctor brought paints and markers.

Then, come Saturday or early Sunday, the Crew Dragon will fire its thrusters to push itself into the atmosphere. This will initiate a high-speed, fiery plummet. Tiles on the spaceship’s underbelly must protect its passengers as friction superheats the air around it to a 3,500-degree-Fahrenheit plasma. Then the spaceship must deploy parachutes to drift to an ocean splashdown.

Crew Dragon has carried NASA astronauts on this return journey twice without incident.

SpaceX developed the spaceship for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a competition that awarded funding to facilitate the development of commercial spacecraft. The goal was to make human spaceflight from the US possible again, since no spaceship had launched people from the US since 2011, when the Space Shuttle Program ended. SpaceX broke that dry spell when it flew its first astronauts in May 2020.

Read the original article on Business Insider

SpaceX is about to launch 4 space tourists into Earth’s orbit. Watch it live Wednesday night.

inspiration4 crew poses in front of falcon 9 rocket that's laying sideways on runway at night
The Inspiration4 crew poses in front of the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spaceship that will launch them into space.

For the first time ever, a spaceship carrying only inexperienced civilians is about to launch into Earth’s orbit.

After just over five months of training, four regular people are set to climb aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and blast into space atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday. Liftoff is scheduled for sometime after 8 p.m. ET, weather permitting. SpaceX plans to broadcast the launch live starting at 4 p.m. ET, via the embed below.

None of thecrew members are professional astronauts – they’ll launch from NASA’s facilities, but the agency has little to do with it otherwise. Instead, this is SpaceX’s show, the company’s first fully private human spaceflight.

The customer – billionaire Jared Isaacman – picked the trajectory and chartered the Crew Dragon capsule directly from the rocket company. Isaacman hasn’t shared how much he paid, though he did say the total came in under $200 million.

“As long as it’s safe, whatever Jared would like to do, it’s up to him,” Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, said during a press conference announcing the mission in February.

Isaacman decided to fly for three days and get up to 355 miles above the ground – farther from Earth than any human has traveled since 2009, when astronauts last visited the Hubble Space Telescope. The spaceship will orbit Earth but won’t dock to the space station.

Isaacman invited three others to join him.

Inspiration4 passengers sit inside crew dragon spaceship seats wearing white spacesuits
The Inspiration4 crew inside a model Crew Dragon spaceship. Left to right: Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman, and Hayley Arceneaux.

Hayley Arceneaux is there to represent her employer, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is benefitting from fundraising efforts connected to the mission. Arceneaux received treatment at St. Jude’s when she had bone cancer as a child. She has a rod in her leg as a result, and she’ll be the first person with a prosthetic to go to space.

Sian Proctor, a geoscientist, won her role as pilot by submitting a video to a contest for a seat. Proctor was a finalist for NASA’s 2009 astronaut class and has served as an analogue astronaut in simulations of long-term Mars missions on the ground.

Chris Sembroski, an engineer at Lockheed Martin, got his seat after a friend who won the raffle for it backed out, offering it to him instead. Sembroski has flown for the US Air Force and been a counselor at Space Camp.

That motley crew will spend their three days in space collecting data for scientific research, enjoying the views, and likely doing some publicity. Their mission is named Inspiration4 – partly for its designation as the first fully private amateur spaceflight, and partly as a nod to Shift4, the payment-processing company that Isaacman founded after dropping out of high school.

SpaceX flew its first astronauts for NASA last year and has since launched two other crews to the space station. The company already has a second group of private tourists lined up for next year as it leads the charge into a new era of commercial human spaceflight.

This is not like the flights other billionaires have taken

falcon 9 rocket launches at night
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying four astronauts launches from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, April 23, 2021.

The Inspiration4 mission’s five-hour launch window opens at 8:02 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Since it’s not meeting up with anything in orbit, the liftoff time is flexible. If the rocket can’t launch on Wednesday, a backup window opens at 8:05 p.m. ET on Thursday.

This is nothing like the flights two other billionaires – Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson – took in July. Both of those vehicles skimmed the edge of space for a few minutes before falling back down, since their rockets were too small to make the push into orbit.

When Inspiration4 lifts off, by contrast, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will push the spaceship close to orbit, then the booster will detach and fall back to Earth to fly again another day.

inspiration4 crew members pose in spacesuits in front of grey wall
The Inspiration4 crew members pose in their SpaceX spacesuits.

After that, the rocket’s upper stage should give the Crew Dragon a final push before it, too, breaks away. That would leave the Crew Dragon and its passengers drifting above our planet 13 minutes after liftoff.

After that, they can strip off their spacesuits. The crew plans to eat cold pizza for dinner.

SpaceX replaced the port its spaceship usually uses to dock with the ISS with a rounded window – a cupola. This glass dome has never flown to space. It’s designed for a spaceship passenger’s most memorable experience: the views.

crew dragon spaceship above earth with glass dome cupola beneath nosecone
An illustration of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship with a glass “cupola” at its nose.

Come Saturday or early Sunday, the Crew Dragon will fire its thrusters to push itself into the atmosphere. This will initiate a high-speed, fiery plummet. Tiles on the spaceship’s underbelly must protect its passengers as friction superheats the air around it to a 3,500-degree-Fahrenheit plasma. Then the spaceship must deploy parachutes to drift to an ocean splashdown.

Crew Dragon has carried astronauts on this return journey twice without incident.

SpaceX developed the spaceship for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a competition that awarded funding to facilitate the development of commercial spacecraft. The goal was to make human spaceflight from the US possible again, since no spaceship had launched people from the US since 2011, when the Space Shuttle Program ended. SpaceX broke that dry spell when it flew its first astronauts in May 2020.

Read the original article on Business Insider

SpaceX is about to launch 4 inexperienced civilians into Earth’s orbit. Watch it live on Wednesday.

inspiration4 crew poses in front of falcon 9 rocket that's laying sideways on runway at night
The Inspiration4 crew poses in front of the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spaceship that will launch them into space.

For the first time ever, a spaceship carrying only inexperienced civilians is about to launch into Earth’s orbit.

After just over five months of training, four regular people are set to climb aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and blast into space atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday. Liftoff is scheduled for sometime after 8 p.m. ET, weather permitting.

None of these crew members are professional astronauts – they’ll launch from NASA’s facilities, but the agency has little to do with it otherwise. Instead, this is SpaceX’s show, the company’s first fully private human spaceflight. The customer – billionaire Jared Isaacman – picked the trajectory and chartered the Crew Dragon capsule directly from the rocket company. Isaacman hasn’t shared how much he paid, though he did say the total came in under $200 million.

“As long as it’s safe, whatever Jared would like to do, it’s up to him,” Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, said during a press conference announcing the mission in February.

Isaacman decided to fly for three days and get up to 355 miles above the ground – farther from Earth than any human has traveled since 2009, when astronauts last visited the Hubble Space Telescope. The spaceship will orbit Earth but won’t dock to the space station.

Isaacman invited three others to join him.

Inspiration4 passengers sit inside crew dragon spaceship seats wearing white spacesuits
The Inspiration4 crew inside a model Crew Dragon spaceship. Left to right: Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman, and Hayley Arceneaux.

Hayley Arceneaux is there to represent her employer, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is benefitting from fundraising efforts connected to the mission. Arceneaux received treatment at St. Jude’s when she had bone cancer as a child. She has a rod in her leg as a result, and she’ll be the first person with a prosthetic to go to space.

Sian Proctor, a geoscientist, won her role as pilot by submitting a video to a contest for a seat. Proctor was a finalist for NASA’s 2009 astronaut class and has served as an analogue astronaut in simulations of long-term Mars missions on the ground.

Chris Sembroski, an engineer at Lockheed Martin, got his seat after a friend who won the raffle for it backed out, offering it to him instead. Sembroski has flown for the US Air Force and been a counselor at Space Camp.

That motley crew will spend their three days in space collecting data for scientific research, enjoying the views, and likely doing some publicity. Their mission is named Inspiration4 – partly for its designation as the first fully private amateur spaceflight, and partly as a nod to Shift4, the payment-processing company that Isaacman founded after dropping out of high school.

SpaceX flew its first astronauts for NASA last year and has since launched two other crews to the space station. The company already has a second group of private tourists lined up for next year as it leads the charge into a new era of commercial human spaceflight.

Watch SpaceX launch its first tourists live

falcon 9 rocket launches at night
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying four astronauts launches from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, April 23, 2021.

The mission’s five-hour launch window opens at 8:02 p.m. ET on Wednesday, though the liftoff time is flexible.

SpaceX plans to broadcast the launch live starting at 4 p.m. ET, via the embed below.

If the mission can’t launch on Wednesday, a backup window opens at 8:05 p.m. ET on Thursday.

This is nothing like the flights two other billionaires – Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson – took in July. Both of those vehicles skimmed the edge of space for a few minutes before falling back down, since their rockets were too small to make the push into orbit.

When Inspiration4 lifts off, by contrast, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will push the spaceship close to orbit, then the booster will detach and fall back to Earth to fly again another day.

inspiration4 crew members pose in spacesuits in front of grey wall
The Inspiration4 crew members pose in their SpaceX spacesuits.

After that, the rocket’s upper stage should give the Crew Dragon a final push before it, too, breaks away. That would leave the Crew Dragon and its passengers drifting above our planet 13 minutes after liftoff.

After that, they can strip off their spacesuits. The crew plans to eat cold pizza for dinner.

Since Inspiration4 won’t go to the space station, SpaceX replaced the port the spaceship usually uses for docking with a rounded window – a cupola. This glass dome has never flown to space. It’s designed for a spaceship passenger’s most memorable experience: the views.

crew dragon spaceship above earth with glass dome cupola beneath nosecone
An illustration of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship with a glass “cupola” at its nose.

Then, come Saturday or early Sunday, the Crew Dragon will fire its thrusters to push itself into the atmosphere. This will initiate a high-speed, fiery plummet. Tiles on the spaceship’s underbelly must protect its passengers as friction superheats the air around it to a 3,500-degree-Fahrenheit plasma. Then the spaceship must deploy parachutes to drift to an ocean splashdown.

Crew Dragon has carried astronauts on this return journey twice without incident.

SpaceX developed the spaceship for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a competition that awarded funding to facilitate the development of commercial spacecraft. The goal was to make human spaceflight from the US possible again, since no spaceship had launched people from the US since 2011, when the Space Shuttle Program ended. SpaceX broke that dry spell when it flew its first astronauts in May 2020.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Photos show how SpaceX’s first civilian crew trained by climbing Mount Rainier and flying jets. They launch Wednesday.

inspiration4 crew members screaming joy floating weightless inside plane
The Crew-2 members on a parabolic flight that simulates zero gravity. Left to right: Chris Sembroski, Hayley Arceneaux, Jared Isaacman, and Sian Proctor.

SpaceX is about to attempt a new first: launching a spaceship full of people who aren’t professional astronauts into orbit.

The four-person crew consists of a billionaire, a physician-assistant, an engineer, and a scientist. On Wednesday, weather permitting, they’ll climb aboard a Crew Dragon spaceship atop a Falcon 9 rocket, then roar into space. They’re set to orbit Earth for three days, enjoying the views and collecting data for scientific research, then plummet back through the atmosphere and parachute to a safe landing. They call their mission Inspiration4.

Billionaire Jared Isaacman chartered the flight from SpaceX and is both footing the bill and commanding the Crew Dragon spaceship. He gave the other three seats to Hayley Arceneaux, who survived bone cancer as a child and now works at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran who works for Lockheed Martin; and Dr. Sian Proctor, a geoscientist who serves as an analogue astronaut in simulations of long-term Mars missions.

The crew isn’t just climbing into the spaceship like you or I might board a plane. They spent five months training – studying manuals, pushing their bodies to new limits, and practicing for worst-case scenarios. They completed the training, which is largely based on NASA’s program, last week.

Even though Isaacman has spent thousands of hours flying jets and ex-military aircraft, he told Insider that the astronaut training was “more intense” than he expected.

jared isaacman and sian proctor co-pilot a jet
Jared Isaacman (left) and Sian Proctor (right) fly a fighter jet together, May 23, 2021.

“I definitely underestimated it to some extent,” he said.

When billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson each took their own rocket rides – flights which skimmed the edge of space but did not enter orbit – neither revealed the details of their training. But the Inspiration4 crew has been sharing its preparations publicly, offering a glimpse into what it takes to prepare amateurs for spaceflight.

Here’s what they’ve revealed.

Step one: Meet your rocket and watch it launch

hayley arceneaux gestures at distant spacex falcon 9 rocket on launchpad
Hayley Arceneaux gestures at a distant Falcon 9 rocket on Launch Complex 39A, April 21, 2021

Once the Inspiration4 crew was assembled, one of the first things they did together was watch SpaceX launch its third set of professional astronauts towards the International Space Station.

Arceneaux had never seen a rocket launch before.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off in the night with crew-2 mission
SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission lifts off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, April 23, 2021.

“I thought I was gonna have anxiety before the launch, but it was actually really serene,” she told Axios reporter Miriam Kramer for the podcast “How It Happened.”

The soon-to-be spacefarers used a centrifuge to simulate the feeling of launch

chris sembroski sitting inside small white chamber for centrifuge training
Chris Sembroski sits in a centrifuge chamber on March 31, 2021

A centrifuge spins really fast to create centrifugal force that pushes things outwards, much like a salad spinner or the spinning carnival ride that presses you against a wall. That force mimics the feeling of launch, when the pull of gravity on your body feels three times its normal strength. Many astronauts and pilots use centrifuges in their training.

Isaacman took his teammates up Mount Rainier

inspiration4 crew members climb mount rainier in snow ice with trekking poles
The Inspiration4 crew climbs Mount Rainier, May 1, 2021.

Washington’s Mount Rainier is a 14,410-foot active volcano covered in glaciers, with punishing weather and hazardous crevasses. Summiting requires ice axes and crampons. So Isaacman decided it would be the perfect place to break the ice with his new crewmates. They climbed the mountain together in early May.

inspiration4 crew members celebrate while climbing mount rainier in snow ice
The Inspiration4 crew poses on Mount Rainier, May 1, 2021.

“They built some mental toughness. They got comfortable being uncomfortable, which is pretty important,” Isaacman said. “Food sucks on the mountain. Temperatures can suck on the mountain. Well, that’s no different than Dragon. We don’t get to dial up and down the thermostat … And I can tell you the food isn’t great in space, from what we’ve tasted so far.”

After camping, it was time to hit the books

inspiration4 crew pose in front of display falcon 9 rocket
The Inspiration4 crew poses in front of a Falcon 9 rocket at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, June 14, 2021.

After Mount Rainier, the crew flew to SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California to begin training in earnest.

“Every day was pretty much a 12-hour day, and then you were getting back to the hotel room, and you’re just studying. That was kind of the intense academic portion of the training,” Isaacman said.

They had to learn about the parts of the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spaceship, how everything works, and what can go wrong.

“We have like 3,000 pages across 100 different manuals. It was a lot. I don’t think any of us really predicted that,” Isaacman said.

Then the crew practiced flying Crew Dragon in simulations

sian proctor wearing a headset looking at a screen in dark blue room
Sian Proctor on a visit to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, July 1, 2021.

Inside a mock Crew Dragon model, the Inspiration4 passengers practiced the procedure for launches and landings. Once they got used to how things are supposed to work when all goes smoothly, trainers started adding issues and spacecraft malfunctions to the simulation.

Some of these exercises involved all four crew members, but some were just for Isaacman and Proctor – the commander and pilot of the mission. Eventually, they were doing full simulations with mission control and a launch director.

In early August, the crew did a grueling 30-hour simulation

nasa astronauts doug hurley bob behnken in spacex spacesuit sit inside crew dragon capsule in front of blue control screens
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley practice in SpaceX’s flight simulator, March 19, 2020.

Isaacman, Proctor, Arceneaux, and Sembroski put on their spacesuits, climbed in the simulation model of the Crew Dragon, and sealed themselves inside for the 30-hour ordeal. Nobody knew what was coming, not even the mission controllers. A simulation supervisor had pre-programmed everything.

They practiced a regular launch, with a weather delay included. They ate a meal and slept. But as their simulated mission began to reenter the atmosphere and fall back to Earth, all hell broke loose.

inspiration4 crew members pose in white grey spacex spacesuits in front of crew dragon spaceship
The Inspiration4 crew, in their new spacesuits, pose in front of a Crew Dragon spaceship model.

The Axios podcast recounts what happened. In the simulation, as the Crew Dragon pushed itself into Earth’s atmosphere, three computers failed. The crew lost touch with mission control. Then the capsule’s parachutes wouldn’t deploy.

“Now you’re blind, you can’t talk, and there’s no way for the chutes to come out. There’s also no way for Dragon to stabilize itself during essentially a hypersonic reentry,” Isaacman told Kramer.

dragon v2 reentry
An animation shows how the Crew Dragon capsule super-heats the material around it as it plummets through Earth’s atmosphere.

When they got their bearings, the crew realized the simulation was sending their hypothetical capsule a continent away from its intended splashdown site.

“It felt very real. You’re living in it for 30 hours. The last 45 minutes, there was awareness from us in the capsule, and them on the ground, that there is a chance that this might not be actually a survivable situation,” Isaacman told Kramer.

In the end, they landed safely, but the podcast did not specify how the crew pulled it off.

The training also involved fun parabolic flights to simulate microgravity

inspiration4 crew members screaming joy floating weightless inside plane
The Inspiration4 crew enjoys weightlessness on a parabolic flight, July 11, 2021.

In a parabolic flight, a plane flies in arcs up and down, creating up to 30 seconds of weightlessness at the peak of the arc. Some people call the planes “vomit comets.”

The team tested their bodies in a high-altitude chamber

inspiration4 crew members sian proctor and hayley arceneaux wearing gas masks in altitude chamber
Sian Proctor (left) and Hayley Arceneaux (right) in a high-altitude chamber at Duke Health in Durham, North Carolina, July 2, 2021.

It’s rare, but sometimes spaceship cabins become depressurized, just like an airplane cabin. Spaceships typically have oxygen masks on board in case this happens. But it’s still helpful to know how your body will react before you slip that mask on. Being familiar with the symptoms of oxygen deprivation can also alert crew members to a cabin leak if the spaceship’s systems don’t detect it first.

To experience those symptoms firsthand, under supervision, the crew took to an altitude chamber that exposed them to a low-oxygen environment.

“It provided great insight into each of our various symptoms,” Arceneaux said, according to a tweet from the mission’s account.

They’ve learned to draw blood and take skin samples

Inspiration4 crew in a carriage on a wire against blue skies
The Inspiration4 crew in a slidewire basket at Launch Complex 39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida, July 28, 2021.

Since scientists want more information on how spaceflight affects the body, the Inspiration4 crew offered to gather biological data for NASA. In addition to taking each other’s blood and skin samples, the crew will monitor their sleep, take daily cognitive tests on an iPad, and scan their organs with an ultrasound device. Isaacman said they didn’t realize quite how extensive this research would be

“We were like, maybe we should have talked about this before we did it,” he said.

He added that the crew members will have to take skin-cell swabs “three times a day on 10 different parts of our body.”

The crew squeezed in some jet piloting above SpaceX’s facilities in Texas

jets flying over spacex starship facilities texas
The Inspiration4 crew flies jets above SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas, August 28, 2021

During their training period, the crew members made public appearances, did media interviews, and took a trip to Space Camp.

While traveling back and forth across the country, aboard Isaacman’s private jets, they made a detour to fly over SpaceX’s rocket-development facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. The site, which SpaceX founder Elon Musk calls “Starbase,” is where the company is building and testing prototypes of its Starship mega-rocket and Super Heavy booster.

Earlier in the summer, Isaacman and Proctor also did fighter-jet training in Montana to brush up on their piloting skills. NASA astronauts do the same to practice thinking and responding quickly under stress.

inspiration4 crew poses with arms crossed on the tarmac at kennedy space center in florida
The Inspiration4 crew poses on the tarmac after flying into NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, September 9, 2021.

With their training complete, Isaacman, Proctor, Arceneaux, and Sembroski flew to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday to complete the final preparations for launch.

They are SpaceX’s first commercial passengers, but the company aims to fly more. It already has another such mission lined up in January: For that flight, called AX-1, the company Axiom Space chartered a Crew Dragon to take customers to the International Space Station for eight days.

The AX-1 crew includes real-estate investor Larry Connor, Canadian investor Mark Pathy, and former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe. Axiom Space’s vice president, former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, will command the mission. It’s not yet clear what their training regimen will be.

This story has been updated. It was originally published September 10, 2021.

Read the original article on Business Insider

SpaceX is launching its first civilians on Wednesday. Photos reveal how they trained for the 3-day spaceflight.

inspiration4 crew members screaming joy floating weightless inside plane
The Crew-2 members on a parabolic flight that simulates zero gravity. Left to right: Chris Sembroski, Hayley Arceneaux, Jared Isaacman, and Sian Proctor.

SpaceX is about to attempt a new first: launching a spaceship full of people who aren’t professional astronauts into orbit.

The four-person crew consists of a billionaire, a physician-assistant, an engineer, and a scientist. On Wednesday, weather permitting, they’ll climb aboard a Crew Dragon spaceship atop a Falcon 9 rocket, then roar into space. They’re set to orbit Earth for three days, enjoying the views and collecting data for scientific research, then plummet back through the atmosphere and parachute to a safe landing. They call their mission Inspiration4.

Billionaire Jared Isaacman chartered the flight from SpaceX and is both footing the bill and commanding the Crew Dragon spaceship. He gave the other three seats to Hayley Arceneaux, who survived bone cancer as a child and now works at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran who works for Lockheed Martin; and Dr. Sian Proctor, a geoscientist who serves as an analogue astronaut in simulations of long-term Mars missions.

The crew isn’t just climbing into the spaceship like you or I might board a plane. They’ve spent the last four months training – studying manuals, pushing their bodies to new limits, and practicing for worst-case scenarios. They completed the training, which is largely based on NASA’s program, this week.

Even though Isaacman has spent thousands of hours flying jets and ex-military aircraft, he told Insider that the astronaut training was “more intense” than he expected.

jared isaacman and sian proctor co-pilot a jet
Jared Isaacman (left) and Sian Proctor (right) fly a fighter jet together, May 23, 2021.

“I definitely underestimated it to some extent,” he said.

When billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson each took their own rocket rides – flights which skimmed the edge of space but did not enter orbit – neither revealed the details of their training. But the Inspiration4 crew has been sharing its preparations publicly, offering a glimpse into what it takes to prepare amateurs for spaceflight.

Here’s what they’ve revealed.

Step one: Meet your rocket and watch it launch

hayley arceneaux gestures at distant spacex falcon 9 rocket on launchpad
Hayley Arceneaux gestures at a distant Falcon 9 rocket on Launch Complex 39A, April 21, 2021

Once the Inspiration4 crew was assembled, one of the first things they did together was watch SpaceX launch its third set of professional astronauts towards the International Space Station.

Arceneaux had never seen a rocket launch before.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off in the night with crew-2 mission
SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission lifts off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, April 23, 2021.

“I thought I was gonna have anxiety before the launch, but it was actually really serene,” she told Axios reporter Miriam Kramer for the podcast “How It Happened.”

The soon-to-be spacefarers used a centrifuge to simulate the feeling of launch

chris sembroski sitting inside small white chamber for centrifuge training
Chris Sembroski sits in a centrifuge chamber on March 31, 2021

A centrifuge spins really fast to create centrifugal force that pushes things outwards, much like a salad spinner or the spinning carnival ride that presses you against a wall. That force mimics the feeling of launch, when the pull of gravity on your body feels three times its normal strength. Many astronauts and pilots use centrifuges in their training.

Isaacman took his teammates up Mount Rainier

inspiration4 crew members climb mount rainier in snow ice with trekking poles
The Inspiration4 crew climbs Mount Rainier, May 1, 2021.

Washington’s Mount Rainier is a 14,410-foot active volcano covered in glaciers, with punishing weather and hazardous crevasses. Summiting requires ice axes and crampons. So Isaacman decided it would be the perfect place to break the ice with his new crewmates. They climbed the mountain together in early May.

inspiration4 crew members celebrate while climbing mount rainier in snow ice
The Inspiration4 crew poses on Mount Rainier, May 1, 2021.

“They built some mental toughness. They got comfortable being uncomfortable, which is pretty important,” Isaacman said. “Food sucks on the mountain. Temperatures can suck on the mountain. Well, that’s no different than Dragon. We don’t get to dial up and down the thermostat … And I can tell you the food isn’t great in space, from what we’ve tasted so far.”

After camping, it was time to hit the books

inspiration4 crew pose in front of display falcon 9 rocket
The Inspiration4 crew poses in front of a Falcon 9 rocket at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, June 14, 2021.

After Mount Rainier, the crew flew to SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California to begin training in earnest.

“Every day was pretty much a 12-hour day, and then you were getting back to the hotel room, and you’re just studying. That was kind of the intense academic portion of the training,” Isaacman said.

They had to learn about the parts of the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spaceship, how everything works, and what can go wrong.

“We have like 3,000 pages across 100 different manuals. It was a lot. I don’t think any of us really predicted that,” Isaacman said.

Then the crew practiced flying Crew Dragon in simulations

sian proctor wearing a headset looking at a screen in dark blue room
Sian Proctor on a visit to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, July 1, 2021.

Inside a mock Crew Dragon model, the Inspiration4 passengers practiced the procedure for launches and landings. Once they got used to how things are supposed to work when all goes smoothly, trainers started adding issues and spacecraft malfunctions to the simulation.

Some of these exercises involved all four crew members, but some were just for Isaacman and Proctor – the commander and pilot of the mission. Eventually, they were doing full simulations with mission control and a launch director.

In early August, the crew did a grueling 30-hour simulation

nasa astronauts doug hurley bob behnken in spacex spacesuit sit inside crew dragon capsule in front of blue control screens
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley practice in SpaceX’s flight simulator, March 19, 2020.

Isaacman, Proctor, Arceneaux, and Sembroski put on their spacesuits, climbed in the simulation model of the Crew Dragon, and sealed themselves inside for the 30-hour ordeal. Nobody knew what was coming, not even the mission controllers. A simulation supervisor had pre-programmed everything.

They practiced a regular launch, with a weather delay included. They ate a meal and slept. But as their simulated mission began to reenter the atmosphere and fall back to Earth, all hell broke loose.

The Axios podcast recounts what happened. In the simulation, as the Crew Dragon pushed itself into Earth’s atmosphere, three computers failed. The crew lost touch with mission control. Then the capsule’s parachutes wouldn’t deploy.

“Now you’re blind, you can’t talk, and there’s no way for the chutes to come out. There’s also no way for Dragon to stabilize itself during essentially a hypersonic reentry,” Isaacman told Kramer.

dragon v2 reentry
An animation shows how the Crew Dragon capsule super-heats the material around it as it plummets through Earth’s atmosphere.

When they got their bearings, the crew realized the simulation was sending their hypothetical capsule a continent away from its intended splashdown site.

“It felt very real. You’re living in it for 30 hours. The last 45 minutes, there was awareness from us in the capsule, and them on the ground, that there is a chance that this might not be actually a survivable situation,” Isaacman told Kramer.

In the end, they landed safely, but the podcast did not specify how the crew pulled it off.

The training also involved fun parabolic flights to simulate microgravity

inspiration4 crew members screaming joy floating weightless inside plane
The Inspiration4 crew enjoys weightlessness on a parabolic flight, July 11, 2021.

In a parabolic flight, a plane flies in arcs up and down, creating up to 30 seconds of weightlessness at the peak of the arc. Some people call the planes “vomit comets.”

The team tested their bodies in a high-altitude chamber

inspiration4 crew members sian proctor and hayley arceneaux wearing gas masks in altitude chamber
Sian Proctor (left) and Hayley Arceneaux (right) in a high-altitude chamber at Duke Health in Durham, North Carolina, July 2, 2021.

It’s rare, but sometimes spaceship cabins become depressurized, just like an airplane cabin. Spaceships typically have oxygen masks on board in case this happens. But it’s still helpful to know how your body will react before you slip that mask on. Being familiar with the symptoms of ozygen deprivation can also alert crew members to a cabin leak if the spaceship’s systems don’t detect it first.

To experience those symptoms firsthand, under supervision, the crew took to an altitude chamber that exposed them to a low-oxygen environment.

“It provided great insight into each of our various symptoms,” Arceneaux said, according to a tweet from the mission’s account.

They’ve learned to draw blood and take skin samples

Inspiration4 crew in a carriage on a wire against blue skies
The Inspiration4 crew in a slidewire basket at Launch Complex 39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida, July 28, 2021.

Since scientists want more information on how spaceflight affects the body, the Inspiration4 crew offered to gather biological data for NASA. In addition to taking each other’s blood and skin samples, the crew will monitor their sleep, take daily cognitive tests on an iPad, and scan their organs with an ultrasound device. Isaacman said they didn’t realize quite how extensive this research would be

“We were like, maybe we should have talked about this before we did it,” he said.

He added that the crew members will have to take skin-cell swabs “three times a day on 10 different parts of our body.”

The crew squeezed in some jet piloting above SpaceX’s facilities in Texas

jets flying over spacex starship facilities texas
The Inspiration4 crew flies jets above SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas, August 28, 2021

During their training period, the crew members made public appearances, did media interviews, and took trips to Space Camp and SpaceX’s rocket-development facilities in Boca Chica, Texas.

That latter site, which SpaceX founder Elon Musk calls “Starbase,” is where the company is building and testing prototypes of its Starship mega-rocket and Super Heavy booster. When they visited, the Inspiration4 crew members went for a plane ride high above the rockets.

Earlier in the summer, Isaacman and Proctor also did fighter-jet training in Montana to brush up on their piloting skills. NASA astronauts do the same to practice thinking and responding quickly under stress.

inspiration4 crew poses with arms crossed on the tarmac at kennedy space center in florida
The Inspiration4 crew poses on the tarmac after flying into NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, September 9, 2021.

With their training is complete, Isaacman, Proctor, Arceneaux, and Sembroski flew to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday to complete the final preparations for launch.

They are SpaceX’s first commercial passengers, but the company aims to fly more. It already has another such mission lined up in January: For that flight, called AX-1, the company Axiom Space chartered a Crew Dragon to take customers to the International Space Station for eight days.

The AX-1 crew includes real-estate investor Larry Connor, Canadian investor Mark Pathy, and former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe. Axiom Space’s vice president, former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, will command the mission. It’s not yet clear what their training regimen will be.

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During Richard Branson’s spaceflight, Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane blared a red warning light and flew out of its clearance zone

virgin galactic space plane firing engines flying up
A still image from video shows Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane, VSS Unity, carrying Richard Branson and crew to the edge of space, July 11, 2021.

As Richard Branson was screaming towards the edge of space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane, a red warning light came on in the cockpit.

The New Yorker’s Nicholas Schmidle reported Wednesday that Branson’s spaceflight on July 11 didn’t go as smoothly as it seemed. The plane didn’t climb to space steeply enough, ultimately causing it to deviate from its approved flight path on its way back to Earth.

The space plane’s pilots, Dave Mackay and Mike Masucci, corrected the error enough to fly and land safely, but in the process, they flew outside their airspace clearance zone for a total of one minute and 41 seconds, according to The New Yorker. As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident.

In a statement emailed to Insider, an FAA spokesperson said: “During its July 11, 2021 flight, the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo vehicle deviated from its Air Traffic Control clearance as it returned to Spaceport America. The FAA investigation is ongoing.”

Virgin Galactic disputed the New Yorker report, calling it “misleading” in a statement to CNBC reporter Michael Sheetz. The company did not, however, immediately reply to Insider’s request for comment.

“At no time were passengers and crew put in any danger as a result of this change in trajectory,” the company told Sheetz. “At no time did the ship travel above any population centers or cause a hazard to the public.”

Virgin Galactic’s pilots kept flying instead of an emergency landing

Richard Branson in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.
Richard Branson floats in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.

Schmidle spoke to eight people with knowledge of Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight program, according to his New Yorker article. Those sources told him that the first sign of trouble came when a yellow caution light appeared on the pilots’ console as Virgin Galactic’s space plane was ascending at more than twice the speed of sound.

The light indicated that the spacecraft was veering slightly off course – enough to affect its path back down to Earth. According to Schmidle, the plane must fall towards the ground within a particular “entry glide cone” in order to reach the runway where it must land.

The yellow light indicated that the plane’s upward trajectory wasn’t steep enough, so it risked venturing outside its cone. Then, the New Yorker reported, a more urgent red light replaced the yellow one.

Earlier discussions between Virgin Galactic pilots suggest that this was a serious issue, according to Schmidle.

“Red should scare the crap out of you,” Masucci said in a meeting that Schmidle attended in 2015.

CJ Sturckow, another Virgin Galactic test pilot who is a former NASA astronaut, took it a step further. Even a yellow light should “scare the shit out of you,” Sturckow said, according to Schmidle, because “when it turns red, it’s gonna be too late.”

In its statement to CNBC, Virgin Galactic said “high altitude winds” changed its spaceship’s trajectory.

“Our pilots responded appropriately to these changing flight conditions exactly as they have been trained and in strict accordance with our established procedures,” the statement said.

Overall, the company added, this was “a safe and successful test flight that adhered to our flight procedures and training protocols.”

But the New Yorker reported that sources at the company said the safest course of action would have been for Mackay and Masucci to abort the flight once they saw that red light. It’s not clear why the pilots chose to continue flying instead.

There was a lot riding on this event: Virgin Galactic had widely publicized it, was livestreaming it with Stephen Colbert as the host, and was flying its founder-CEO (Branson) for the first time.

The FAA does not regulate passenger safety for commercial spaceflight. For now, the agency’s job is only to ensure the safety of people on the ground and of other aircraft. A rocket that ventures outside its airspace-clearance zone could pose a risk to both.

Even when a spaceflight itself is regulated, though, it’s risky for the people onboard. About 1% of US human spaceflights has resulted in a fatal accident, according to an analysis published earlier this year. That’s about 10,000 times more dangerous than flying on a commercial airplane.

Branson’s trip was one of Virgin Galactic’s final test flights of its space plane. The company plans to start flying paying customers next year.

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NASA astronaut Megan McArthur’s warning to space tourists: Spaceflight is uncomfortable and risky. It takes grit.

nasa astronaut megan mcarthur works robotics computers equipment on international space station
NASA astronaut Megan McArthur at the robotics workstation on the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Megan McArthur has a word of warning for future space tourists: orbiting Earth isn’t all fun and games.

Well, some of it is. But the awe-inspiring experience of spaceflight comes with plenty of discomfort, risk, and difficulty executing everyday tasks.

Living in microgravity is “sort of like having superpowers,” McArthur told Insider in a recent call from the International Space Station (ISS). “I can lift things that, on Earth, I would need two or three people to help me lift.”

But she added: “Things that are very, very simple on Earth suddenly become really hard – even something simple like sleeping or brushing your teeth. You have to really think about: How am I going to do this successfully and without making a mess?”

Astronauts have to swallow their toothpaste because spitting it out would leave liquid floating around. They sleep in little compartments about the size of a telephone booth, inside a sleeping bag secured to the wall so they don’t float around. The sleeping booths have air vents so that bubbles of carbon dioxide don’t form around the astronauts’ heads.

Several companies are now selling spaceflights to the wealthy. At least two crews of tourists are set to launch aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship in the next six months, and they are training to prepare for the discomforts of spaceflight. But only professional astronauts like McArthur really know what that’s like.

Astronauts can’t do laundry. And they can’t shower. Instead they have to sponge-bathe using a soapy water solution in a bag, and use no-rinse shampoo to clean their hair. To go to the bathroom, they pee into a funnel and poop into a small hole, both of which suction waste away so it doesn’t float around the station.

That’s why some astronauts compare spaceflight to a rugged camping trip. But of course, it’s far more extreme and risky than that.

“I think it’s a little bit like other exploring that people have done over the generations,” McArthur said. “You have to be willing to put up with a little discomfort and some risk, obviously. So you have to have grit, I think, in your personality to help you get through those things and enjoy those situations.”

About 1% of US human spaceflights has resulted in a fatal accident, according to an analysis published earlier this year. That’s about 10,000 times more dangerous than flying on a commercial airplane. It’s unclear, though, how that failure rate will change as new, commercially developed spacecraft begin flying people regularly.

One crew of future space tourists is getting ‘comfortable being uncomfortable’

Inspiration4_Crew_at_Launch_Site
The Inspiration4 Crew at NASA’s Launchpad 39A. Left to right: Chris Sembroski, Hayley Arceneaux, Dr. Sian Proctor, and Jared Isaacman.

Since 2001, several millionaires and billionaires have paid for seats to the ISS aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. But now, private companies with their own rockets and spaceships are opening up a new industry of space tourism.

Last month, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos each skimmed the edge of space aboard vehicles developed by the companies they founded – Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, respectively. Both companies are selling tickets for such suborbital flights.

The next tourists to go to space are due to launch next month aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship – the same model that flew McArthur to the ISS in April. They plan to orbit Earth for three days.

Billionaire Jared Isaacman chartered the flight, called Inspiration4, from SpaceX. He’s taking one seat and giving the other three to physician-assistant Hayley Arceneaux, Air Force vet and engineer Chris Sembroski, and scientist and analogue astronaut Dr. Sian Proctor.

crew dragon spaceship above earth with glass dome cupola beneath nosecone
An illustration of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship with a glass dome “cupola” at its nose.

To help prepare, part of their training involved an icy climb to the top of Mount Rainier in Washington.

“They built some mental toughness. They got comfortable being uncomfortable, which is pretty important,” Isaacman told Insider. “Food sucks on the mountain. Temperatures can suck on the mountain. Well, that’s no different than Dragon. We don’t get to dial up and down the thermostat … And I can tell you the food isn’t great in space, from what we’ve tasted so far.”

Mount Rainier looms over Tacoma, Washington.
Mount Rainier looms over Tacoma, Washington.

In January, another group of tourists is set to fly on a Crew Dragon – the exact ship that McArthur rode to space, which will be reused for the mission. The flight, called AX-1, is the first tourist flight by the company Axiom Space, which aims to eventually build a private space station.

The AX-1 crew includes real-estate investor Larry Connor, Canadian investor Mark Pathy, and former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe. Axiom Space’s vice president, former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, will command the mission. The team is set to dock to the ISS and stay there for eight days.

Ax1 crew members: Commander Michael López-Alegría, mission pilot Larry Connor, mission specialist Mark Pathy, mission specialist Eytan Stibbe
The AX-1 crew members, left to right: Michael López-Alegría, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, Eytan Stibbe.

Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, wants to eventually create a self-sustaining human colony on Mars. Bezos also wants to see off-planet colonies, which is why he founded Blue Origin in 2000. NASA, meanwhile, has long-term plans to establish a permanent human presence on the moon, then on Mars.

McArthur said even living in space relatively close to home is very difficult and risky, even with years of NASA training and previous spaceflight experience.

“I kind of knew what to expect. But then actually getting to live it was still really fun and really exciting and really challenging as well,” she said. “As much as you prepare, the day-to-day life can still be very challenging.”

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Boeing’s spaceship launch for NASA is seriously delayed as ‘disappointing’ technical issues send it back to the factory

rocket with starliner spaceship atop next to launch tower against blue skies
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft onboard is readied at the launchpad, July 29, 2021 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Boeing designed its Starliner spaceship to fly NASA astronauts. But nobody is getting aboard anytime soon.

The capsule was supposed to complete an uncrewed test flight to and from the International Space Station (ISS) to show the space agency that it’s ready to carry people. That was scheduled for August 3, but Boeing had to scrub the launch when it discovered that 13 valves on the spaceship’s propulsion system weren’t opening as they were supposed to.

Boeing engineers then spent 10 days working on the spaceship at NASA’s hangar in Cape Canaveral, Florida, but four of the valves still won’t open and they aren’t sure why. On Friday, the company announced that it will move Starliner back to its nearby factory for further troubleshooting, delaying the launch indefinitely.

technicians roll boeing starliner spaceship down hallway
Boeing carries out launch preparations with the Starliner spacecraft at its factory at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, November 2, 2019.

“This is obviously a disappointing day,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s human-spaceflight directorate, said in a press conference on Friday. “But I want to emphasize that this is another example of why these demo missions are so very important to us. We use these demo missions to make sure we have the system wrung out, before we put our crews on these vehicles.”

The uncrewed, automated flight is a critical part of NASA’s certification process, and the last step before flying astronauts. Boeing has attempted this part of the process once before, in December 2019, but a software error caused the spaceship to burn through 25% of its fuel too soon after launch. That meant it didn’t have enough propellant to reach the ISS and return home, so Boeing commanded the spaceship to parachute back down to Earth.

It took 18 months to investigate and fix that error and prepare for another attempt. But given the current issues, Starliner will not have another opportunity to launch to the ISS until later this fall. That’s because NASA’s Lucy mission, which is traveling to a group of Jupiter-trailing asteroids, lifts off in October or early November.

“Although we will not be launching in August, it’s not for a lack of trying,” John Vollmer, Boeing’s vice president and program manager for Starliner, said in the press conference. “This will ultimately give us a much safer vehicle in the long run.”

Leaking propellant may have corroded the valves that are stuck

two engineers wearing harnesses with bungee lines work on starliner spaceship atop rocket
Boeing engineers continue work on the Starliner propulsion system valves at vertical integration facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Starliner was sitting secured to the top of an Atlas V rocket, ready to lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, when electrical storms prompted Boeing engineers to investigate the spaceship’s health. That’s when they discovered that 13 of the 24 valves on the propulsion system’s oxidizer tank were not opening, but it wasn’t because of the storms.

Even if Boeing hadn’t noticed this ahead of time, Starliner wouldn’t have been able to launch without opening those valves, Vollmer said. Having an issue with 13 of them is “significant,” he added.

“These are the kinds of things you want to find on the ground,” Lueders said.

She added that it “would not have been good” if the valves had operated normally during launch and then not opened once Starliner reached the ISS.

These are the same valves that Starliner used during its 2019 flight, when they performed as expected.

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship space capsule nasa commercial crew program ccp orbiting earth illustration 317188 33_CST_Flip_fr01_
An illustration of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spaceship orbiting Earth.

Boeing is not sure what caused the new issue. But Vollmer said the most likely explanation has to do with nitrogen tetroxide: the substance inside the oxidizer tank, which mixes with the rocket’s fuel to ignite and propel it forward. It might have escaped the tank and started seeping through the valve’s seals. Once nitrogen tetroxide interacts with moisture from the air, it creates nitric acid, which could then corrode the valves.

That’s a “common phenomenon” with these types of valves, according to Steve Stich, who manages the NASA program that funded Starliner’s development.

“It’s a problem we had to deal with in the Space Shuttle Program,” Stich said in the press conference. “It’s pretty standard across the industry to deal with the oxidizer vapor on these cells.”

It’s not yet clear whether Boeing will need to replace the valves or redesign part of its spaceship.

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Watch Boeing launch its spaceship on a do-over flight to prove it can transport astronauts for NASA

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship nasa commercial crew program ccp illustration rendering launch orbit landing 4
A computer rendering of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spaceship orbiting Earth.

Boeing’s Starliner spaceship will attempt to redeem itself this week, after botching its last major test flight.

The company’s eventual goal is to fly astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, the way SpaceX already does. Both companies developed their launch systems through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a competition that awarded funding to private companies in order to develop new astronaut-ready spacecraft.

But before carrying people, the Starliner has to complete an uncrewed test flight to and from the ISS as part of NASA’s certification process. Boeing first attempted this flight in December 2019, but it turned out that one of the spaceship’s clocks was set 11 hours ahead of schedule. The clock prompted the spaceship’s engines to fire too vigorously, too early – a move meant to come at a later stage of the mission.

That caused the spaceship to burn through 25% of its fuel, forcing Boeing to skip docking with the space station in order to save the Starliner from total failure.

Now, the company is confident that it has fixed the problems with its spaceship, so it’s time for the do-over.

“Now’s the right time. This team is ready to go, this vehicle is ready to go,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s human-spaceflight directorate, said in a press briefing last week.

Watch Starliner launch live

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship nasa commercial crew program ccp orbital flight test oft launch pad cape canaveral launch 6NHQ201912200021_orig
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft launches from Space Launch Complex 41 on December 20, 2019, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The mission, called Orbital Flight Test 2, or OFT-2, is set to launch on Tuesday at 1:20 p.m. ET. Starliner will blast off atop an Atlas V rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

NASA plans to broadcast the whole thing, below, starting at 12:30 p.m. ET.

If all goes according to plan, the Atlas V booster should fall away after about four minutes. That leaves the rocket’s upper stage to give Starliner one final push into Earth’s orbit before it, too, separates from the capsule. Starliner should orbit Earth alone overnight, slowly lining itself up to meet the ISS the next day.

“That’s the part of this flight that, to me, is so critical: docking with station and then also, on the back end as well, going through that whole undock sequence,” Steve Stich, who manages NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said in a briefing.

If the spaceship successfully latches onto a port on the ISS, astronauts on the station will then open its hatch and unload its cargo – science equipment and supplies. After that, the Starliner is scheduled to stay docked to the ISS to test out its systems and its endurance in space, until it returns to Earth a few days later.

The launch was originally set for Friday afternoon, but had to be delayed after a mishap on the ISS. Russia’s new module, Nauka, fired its engines unexpectedly after docking to the station on Thursday, which rotated the ISS 45 degrees. Flight controllers regained control about an hour later.

“We wanted to make sure we had some breathing room to fully assess the situation on station before adding another vehicle,” Lueders said in a briefing on Thursday.

Boeing’s investigation into the failed flight revealed further problems

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship space capsule nasa commercial crew program ccp orbiting earth illustration 317188 33_CST_Flip_fr01_
An illustration of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spaceship orbiting Earth.

During Boeing’s test flight in 2019, the early engine fire prompted the company’s engineers to quickly review the spacecraft’s software while Starliner was orbiting Earth. In doing so, they discovered and patched another issue – not the clock error – that could have been catastrophic.

As Starliner prepares to fall back to Earth, it’s supposed to shed its service module – a cylinder containing the spaceship’s main engines. That part is meant to fall away from the crew module, which holds the astronauts.

But this second software error could have led the service module to bounce back and crash into the crew module. That could have sent the astronauts’ capsule tumbling or significantly damaged its protective heat shield, making it unsafe to plow through the atmosphere.

The discovery of this issue prompted a NASA investigation into Boeing’s coding and overall safety culture. NASA administrators at the time said the software issue was likely a symptom of larger problems at the company. But now, Stich said, “Boeing has an excellent safety culture.”

Boeing has fixed both issues and changed some of the spaceship’s communications software.

“There’s always a little bit of that trepidation in you,” Stich said. “This is spaceflight. The Atlas is a great vehicle. Starliner is a great vehicle. But we know how hard it is, and it’s a test flight as well. And I fully expect we’ll learn something on this test flight.”

Why NASA needs Boeing

Assuming Starliner can make it to the ISS and back without major issues, its next step will be to do that again with astronauts onboard – a crewed test flight. If everything goes smoothly, that flight could launch by the end of this year, Stich said.

boeing starliner space capsule lowered on cables to rocket
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is stacked atop an Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on July 17, 2021.

NASA is relying on both Boeing and SpaceX to replace the government-developed Space Shuttle, which stopped flying in 2011. After that, NASA relied solely on Russian Soyuz rockets to ferry its astronauts to and from the ISS. Then SpaceX’s Crew Dragon passed the agency’s tests, flying its first astronauts to the ISS last year. SpaceX has flown two full crews since then.

NASA hopes to add Starliner to its fleet soon so that the agency is no longer reliant on just one launch system.

This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published on July 28, 2021.

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NASA has delayed Boeing’s spaceship flight after a Russian module pushed the space station out of position

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship space capsule nasa commercial crew program ccp orbiting earth illustration 317188 33_CST_Flip_fr01_
An illustration of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spaceship orbiting Earth.

A major mishap on the International Space Station has forced NASA and Boeing to delay the company’s planned spaceship flight.

Boeing was set to launch its spacecraft, called Starliner, toward the ISS on Friday afternoon and dock there on Saturday. This mission is meant to be Starliner’s last test flight before carrying its first astronauts. Boeing attempted this demonstration flight once before, in December 2019, but failed to reach the ISS due to software issues. Now the company is trying again, hoping to prove to NASA that Starliner is ready to fly astronauts.

But Boeing will have to wait just a little longer.

That’s because Russia added a new module to the ISS on Thursday, then immediately encountered major technical issues. The new module, called Nauka, starting unexpectedly firing its thrusters just hours after arriving at the ISS – which moved the entire station out of position.

nauka module spaceship with solar array wings approaches international space station
A screenshot from NASA’s livestream shows the Nauka module approaching its port on the International Space Station, July 29, 2021.

NASA announced on Thursday afternoon that it had decided to delay Boeing’s Starliner launch. The next opportunity to launch is on Tuesday, August 3.

“We wanted to make sure we had some breathing room to fully assess the situation on station before adding another vehicle,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s human-spaceflight directorate, said in a press briefing on Thursday.

Boeing is one of two companies – SpaceX is the other – that NASA has funded to develop human-spaceflight systems. Both NASA and Boeing are determined to finish Starliner’s test flights and start using the spaceship to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS.

Before SpaceX’s Crew Dragon completed its test flights last year, NASA could only use Russian Soyuz spacecraft to fly its astronauts. Starliner’s next flight is critical to giving the agency more options.

Nauka encountered technical issues on the ground and in space

man in white lab coat stands in front of nauka module port opening in lab room
A specialist at the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Centre works on preparations of the Nauka module, July 31, 2020.

Russia originally planned to add Nauka to the ISS in 2007, but technical issues delayed its development on the ground. Nauka finally launched on July 21, but it immediately encountered technical problems. It didn’t complete the first engine burn that was supposed to push it into a higher orbit above Earth, so Russian flight controllers had to initiate several smaller burns to push it onto the right path.

The long-awaited science module finally docked to the ISS at 9:29 a.m. ET on Thursday. It latched onto the correct ISS port and sealed itself. Cosmonauts began preparing to open the hatch connecting the module to the station.

But three hours later, at about 12:34 p.m. ET, Nauka suddenly began firing its engines. It took flight controllers about an hour to get the ISS back under control, after playing “tug of war” by firing engines on another part of the station.

The thrusters rotated the ISS by 45 degrees before NASA and Russian flight controllers regained control.

“It’s safe to say the remainder of the day is no longer going to happen as scheduled, of course,” a flight controller told the ISS astronauts.

NASA says the astronauts on the ISS were never in danger.

Currently there are two cosmonauts, Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov, and five astronauts aboard the station: Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency, and Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, and Mark Vande Hei of NASA.

Aylin Woodward contributed reporting.

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