SpaceX’s first civilian crew will have ‘one hell of a view’ from the spaceship’s toilet in a new glass dome

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.

SpaceX’s first civilian crew is poised to enjoy what may be the best bathroom views in human history.

It’s not clear how the toilet facilities work on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship – the design is shrouded in proprietary secrecy. But we do know that the toilet is on the ceiling. That area of the spaceship will also feature a glass dome, called a cupola, that SpaceX is installing at the nose of the capsule.

So while passengers are using the toilet, they’ll be able to gaze out the windows, according to Jared Isaacman, a billionaire entrepreneur and jet pilot who purchased four seats on SpaceX’s spaceship for a civilian mission to space. The trip will be the first orbital spaceflight ever with no professional astronauts on board. It will also feature the first space toilet with a 360-degree view.

“It’s not a ton of privacy. But you do have this kind of privacy curtain that cuts across the top of the spacecraft, so you can kind of separate yourself from everyone else,” Isaacman, who will be commanding the mission, told Insider. “And that also happens to be where the glass cupola is. So, you know, when people do inevitably have to use the bathroom, they’re going to have one hell of a view.”

Isaacman’s planned journey, a mission called Inspiration4, could launch as soon as September 15. The group is expected to orbit Earth at an altitude higher than the International Space Station (ISS) for three days, enjoying the views and conducting science experiments while they’re there. Isaacman gave the other three Crew Dragon seats to physician-assistant Hayley Arceneaux, Air Force vet and engineer Chris Sembroski, and scientist and analogue astronaut Dr. Sian Proctor.

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

Inspiration4 aims to kick off a new era of space tourism – alongside Jeff Bezos’s plans to peek above the edge of space for three minutes on July 20 (though that’s a suborbital flight), and a mission next year that aims to send three paying customers to the ISS aboard a Crew Dragon capsule.

SpaceX has flown professional astronauts to the space station for NASA three times, but none of those spaceships had a cupola. That’s because the capsules’ noses needed to dock to the ISS so that the astronauts could climb into the orbiting laboratory. Since the Inspiration4 crew won’t be docking to anything, SpaceX is replacing the docking mechanism with a window that passengers can stand in.

“Probably most ‘in space’ you could possibly feel by being in a glass dome,” Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief engineer, said of the new cupola on Twitter.

The Inspiration4 crew is learning to use the spaceship’s toilet

jared isaacman spacex crew dragon
Jared Isaacman at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

Isaacman, a self-described “space geek,” started the payment-processing company Shift4 when he was 16 years old. He is still the company’s CEO. He also founded Draken International, which owns a large fleet of ex-military aircraft and trains Air Force and other pilots. Isaacman sold his majority stake in that company for “a nine-figure sum,” according to Forbes, which estimates his net worth at $2.9 billion.

Isaacman flies jets in his free time and has circumnavigated the globe at least twice. When he learned that he could buy a Crew Dragon flight, he jumped at the chance. Though neither SpaceX nor Isaacman has said how much he paid, NASA has estimated such a flight might cost $55 million per seat.

As part of the Inspiration4 mission, Isaacman is working with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to plan science experiments for the crew to do while in orbit. The four crew members also plan to draw each other’s blood, take skin samples, and perform cognitive tests to help NASA gather data about how spaceflight affects the human body.

SpaceX and NASA have both declined to reveal details about the location or design of Crew Dragon’s toilet, but the spaceship’s prior passengers have offered clues.

The toilet “works very similar to the one we were used to in the Space Shuttle, and it worked very well. We had no issues with it,” NASA astronaut Doug Hurley told reporters after launching to the ISS on the Crew Dragon’s first crewed flight last year.

The toilets on the Space Shuttle and on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft involved rudimentary hose and bag systems, so it’s likely the Crew Dragon’s resembles those. For civilians like Isaacman and his crewmates, this might be an adjustment. Even NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson previously told Business Insider that going to the bathroom might have been the worst part about life in space.

Learning to use the toilet is part of the intensive pre-flight training for Inspiration4, according to Isaacman.

“We’re just gonna have to work through it,” he said.

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SpaceX to launch billionaire Jared Isaacman into space with a mission of 3 private astronauts on the Crew Dragon

jared isaacman spacex crew dragon
Jared Isaacman at SpaceX in Hawthorne, California.

  • Billionaire Jared Isaacman has bought seats on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship to launch himself, a healthcare worker and two others — to be selected via sweepstakes — into orbit in late 2021.
  • The mission, called Inspiration4, will be the first ever to fly a crew of people who aren’t professional astronauts into space.
  • “The risk is not zero,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk said, but this is a big step toward making spaceflight affordable and accessible.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

SpaceX is planning a first-of-its-kind spaceflight for the end of this year: launching a crew of people who aren’t professional astronauts into Earth’s orbit.

The mission is called Inspiration4. SpaceX announced on Monday that it’s targeting the fourth quarter of 2021 for launch, after 37-year-old billionaire Jared Isaacman bought a four-person flight aboard the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship.

Isaacman founded the payment processing company Shift4 Payments in 1999, and in 2011 co-founded Draken International, which owns an expansive fleet of fighter jets and trains pilots for the US military. Though he says he has spent over 6,000 hours flying jets and ex-military aircraft, he has never been to space. Neither have the three people he plans to put in the Dragon’s other seats.

That will make Inspiration4 the first mission in history to fly an entirely private commercial crew.

“This is an important milestone towards enabling access to space for everyone,” Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, said in a call with reporters on Monday. “Because at first things are very expensive, and it is only through missions like this that we’re able to bring the cost down over time and make space accessible to all.”

elon musk space x SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk speaks in front of Crew Dragon cleanroom at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California on October 10, 2019. (Photo by Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Elon Musk speaks in front of Crew Dragon cleanroom at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, California on October 10, 2019.

Isaacman has already selected his first crew member: an unnamed woman who is a healthcare worker. She will serve as an “ambassador” for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is benefitting from a fundraising effort that will help select the second crew member. That person will be chosen from a month-long sweepstakes aiming to raise $100 million for childhood-cancer research at St. Jude, in addition to a $100-million donation from Isaacman.

“If we’re going to continue making advances up there in space, then we have an obligation to do the same down here on Earth,” Isaacman said during the call.

The third Inspiration4 seat will go to an entrepreneur who creates an online store for their business using Isaacman’s company’s ecommerce service, Shift4Shop.

Requirements for eligibility include being 18 or older and being a US resident. Potential crew members will also undergo a basic medical screening, Musk said.

“If you can go on a roller coaster ride, like an intense roller coaster ride, you should be fine for flying on Dragon,” he added.

The crew selections are to be announced by the end of February. Then, the crew will immediately begin SpaceX’s astronaut-training program, with Isaacman making some additions inspired by his mountain-climbing experience.

“I intend to get four people in a tent that I can attest is absolutely smaller than the Dragon spacecraft, on a mountain when it’s snowing out, and introduce everybody to some really stressful situations,” Isaacman said. “We are all going to know each other incredibly well long before we ever strap into Dragon.”

‘Pioneers’ of a new era of private space exploration

SpaceX launched the first-ever commercial spaceflight in May 2020, rocketing NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station on a demonstration mission called Demo-2.

After the Crew Dragon safely returned Behnken and Hurley to Earth, parachuting them into the Gulf of Mexico two months after their launch, SpaceX began the first of six ISS-rotation missions that NASA contracted from the company.

The Crew-1 mission launched SpaceX’s first full crew of four astronauts in November, aboard a Dragon capsule named Resilience, which remains attached to the ISS until the astronauts return in spring.

That’s the spaceship that SpaceX plans to give Isaacman for his mission later this year.

crew dragon spaceship orbit earth crew 1 docking international space station
The Resilience capsule approaches the International Space Station for docking, November 16, 2020.

“Any mission where there’s a crew onboard makes me nervous,” Musk told NBC News’s Tom Costello in an interview that aired on Monday. “The risk is not zero.”

“When you’ve got a brand new mode of transportation, you have to have pioneers,” he added.

Inspiration4 is set to launch aboard a Falcon 9 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rocket should push the capsule into Earth’s orbit, where it will orbit at whatever altitude Isaacman wants, for as long as Isaacman wants.

“Where do you want to go? We’ll take you there,” Musk said to him during Monday’s call, adding, “You can change your mind too.”

For now, the plan is to orbit at the ISS altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers) for two to four days, according to Isaacman and Musk. It’s not yet clear what they will do with their time in space. Isaacman said it will involve “some experiments” for research institutions like St. Jude, but he declined to elaborate.

“We’re going to release details in the near future as to the payload and experiments that we hope to bring on board,” he said.

Via missions like these, Musk hopes that the cost of spaceflight with SpaceX will drop “exponentially” over time, since they will help fund the development of his company’s Starship-Super Heavy launch system. SpaceX is designing and test-launching prototypes of that future system at its facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. Musk wants the final launch system – which may stand 120 meters (394 feet) tall – to be fully reusable.

starship reusable rocket spaceship prototype sn8 serial number 8 launch boca chica texas december 9 2020 50703878421_7712bb60d3_o
SpaceX’s Starship serial No. 8 rocket-ship prototype launches from a pad in Boca Chica, Texas, on December 9, 2020.

If it works, Starship might slash the cost of reaching space about 1,000-fold, power round-the-world hypersonic travel on Earth, and fly astronauts to the moon. Musk’s ultimate plan is to build 1,000 Starships, use them to fly people and cargo to Mars, and build an independent, self-sustaining city there.

“The key to being affordable to all is full and rapid reusability, so that would be with the Starship program,” he said.

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