SpaceX Live Updates: The Inspiration4 Mission’s Rocket Is Fueling Up Ahead of Launch

Four amateur astronauts who have never been to space before are hours away from heading to orbit. Here’s what you need to know.,

LiveUpdated Sept. 15, 2021, 7:34 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 7:34 p.m. ET

Four amateur astronauts who have never been to space before are hours away from heading to orbit. Here’s what you need to know.

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The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off for this historical mission from the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday night.CreditCredit…Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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Sept. 15, 2021, 7:32 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 7:32 p.m. ET
ImageA SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket self-destructed during a successful test of the Crew Dragon astronaut capsule's emergency escape system in January 2020.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket self-destructed during a successful test of the Crew Dragon astronaut capsule’s emergency escape system in January 2020.Credit…Joe Rimkus Jr/Reuters

The crew is flying on the same spacecraft that NASA uses to take astronauts to orbit. That means the space agency has required it to meet a number of safety standards. In three journeys so far, no significant safety problems have been reported with the spacecraft.

But every journey to space presents dangers from the moment the crew members are sealed into a spacecraft until the moment they safely exit. Astronauts have died on the launchpad (like the Apollo 1 disaster), as they headed to orbit (the space shuttle Challenger) and as they re-entered the atmosphere (the space shuttle Columbia). The Apollo 13 mission’s mishap showed the difficulty in bringing back a crew when the crippled spacecraft is far from Earth.

Three successful trips of a spacecraft also does not mean all potential problems have been discovered and fixed. There were 24 successful space shuttle missions before the loss of Challenger in 1986.

Even the astronauts aboard Crew Dragon have encountered risks. During the latest flight to the space station in April, mission controllers warned the crew that a piece of space debris was about to whiz past. The astronauts put on their spacesuits, got back in their seats and lowered their protective visors. The flight continued to the space station without incident and later analysis showed that it was a false alarm, that no debris actually passed near the spacecraft.

In the days in Florida leading up to the launch, Mr. Isaacman took advantage of his fighter jet experience.

“I also like to look at risk on a relative basis,” Mr. Issacman said during a news conference on Tuesday. “The last couple days, we’ve been tearing up the skies in fighter jets, which I put it relatively higher risk than this mission so that we’re nice and comfortable as we get strapped into Falcon.”

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Sept. 15, 2021, 7:29 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 7:29 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

Propellant loading has started. The Falcon 9 rocket uses a highly refined form of kerosene known as RP-1 and liquid oxygen.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 7:23 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 7:23 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The launch escape system has been switched on. In case something goes wrong during propellant loading, the escape system will blast the capsule and the astronauts to safety.

Credit…SpaceX
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Sept. 15, 2021, 7:22 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 7:22 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

All systems and weather are green, and the flow of propellants should begin in less than eight minutes.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 7:20 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 7:20 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The launch director has given the go-ahead to retract the bridge that the astronauts used to board the capsule and to begin the loading of rocket propellants.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 7:18 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 7:18 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

You might be wondering, why is it taking so long to take off? When you board a commercial jetliner, the pilot has to go through a checklist. The same is true for a rocket and spacecraft, except there are many more checks. In addition, the tanks of the Falcon 9 are still empty. The loading of the propellants that lift it does not start until just 35 minutes before liftoff.

Credit…Joe Skipper/Reuters
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Sept. 15, 2021, 7:03 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 7:03 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

One hour until liftoff. Countdown continues to proceed smoothly. Weather looks really good. There are hardly any clouds in the sky.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 7:00 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 7:00 p.m. ET
Jeff Bezos, left, and Richard Branson, two other billionaires who went to space this summer.Credit…Getty Images; EPA, via Shutterstock

The SpaceShipTwo space plane built by Virgin Galactic (Richard Branson’s company) and the New Shepard spacecraft built by Blue Origin (Jeff Bezos’ company) make suborbital flights. Mr. Branson traveled above 53 miles, passing the 50-mile-high threshold that the United States Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration consider the edge of space. Mr. Bezos went a bit higher, to 66 miles, above the 62-mile-high altitude regarded as the edge of space by the International Federation of Astronautics.

Once the craft reached the top of their trajectories, they stopped, and then fell back down. Virgin’s space plane glided to a landing. The New Shepard capsule was slowed by parachutes. Both ended up back on the ground, almost where they started, not long after they left.

By contrast, to reach orbit and stay there, a spacecraft must accelerate to a velocity of 17,500 miles per hour. That requires a much bigger rocket and is more dangerous.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 6:44 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 6:44 p.m. ET
Jared Isaacman, Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor and Hayley Arceneaux arriving in Florida as they began their training for the launch this year.Credit…John Kraus/Agence France-Presse, via Inspiration4

For the mission, Mr. Isaacman named the four Crew Dragon seats to reflect positive aspects of humanity: leadership, hope, generosity and prosperity.

“We set out from the start to deliver a very inspiring message,” Mr. Isaacman said during a news conference on Tuesday, “and chose to do that through an interesting crew selection process.”

As commander for Inspiration4, Mr. Isaacman fills the leadership seat.

Mr. Isaacman gave two of the four seats to St. Jude. The hope seat was earmarked for a St. Jude health care worker, and hospital officials chose Ms. Arceneaux, who quickly said yes to the offer.

Another seat, generosity, was raffled off to raise money for the hospital. Mr. Sembroski entered, donating $50, but he did not win the sweepstakes, which helped raise $13 million for St. Jude. A friend of his, though, did — an old college buddy from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. The friend, who remains anonymous, decided not to go to space but, knowing about Mr. Sembroski’s enthusiasm, transferred the prize to him.

“I think that just really puts me in a very special spot,” Mr. Sembroski said, “where not only do I feel very lucky to be here but I have a huge responsibility to pay that forward and show that generosity towards others, and to bring that message to everyone else.”

The last seat, prosperity, was the prize in a contest run by Mr. Isaacman’s company, Shift4 Payments. Contestants used the company’s software to design an online store and then tweeted videos describing their entrepreneurial and space dreams. (Using the software, Dr. Proctor started selling her space-related artwork, and in her video, she read a poem that she wrote.)

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Sept. 15, 2021, 6:24 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 6:24 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

Leak checks confirm that the seal around the hatch is good.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 6:13 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 6:13 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The hatch is closed.

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CreditCredit…SpaceX
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Sept. 15, 2021, 6:11 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 6:11 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The SpaceX technicians have to make sure that the seal is tight with no debris trapped in there.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 6:06 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 6:06 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

Even closing the door of the capsule is a slow process.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 6:03 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 6:03 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

SpaceX is releasing balloons to measure high-altitude winds. So far, the weather looks great.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 5:54 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 5:54 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

Considering that they’ll soon be traveling at 17,500 miles per hour, there’s a lot of sitting around for now. Still more than 2 hours until liftoff.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 5:52 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 5:52 p.m. ET
Hayley Arceneaux is both a physician assistant at St. Jude hospital and a former patient, which helped her recover from pediatric cancer. Credit…Chandan Khanna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

When he announced Inspiration4 in February, Mr. Isaacman said he wanted it to be more than an extraterrestrial jaunt for rich people like him. He reached out to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, which treats children at no charge and develops cures for childhood cancers as well as other diseases. Mr. Isaacman offered to use the mission as a fund-raising vehicle for St. Jude, setting a $200 million target.

“If you’re going to accomplish all those great things out in space, all that progress, then you have an obligation to do some considerable good here on Earth, like making sure you conquer childhood cancer along the way,” he said.

So far, more than $130 million has been raised including the $100 million that Mr. Isaacman is personally donating to St. Jude.

“We are elated with where we are from a fund-raising perspective,” said Richard C. Shadyac Jr., the president of ALSAC, the fund-raising organization for St. Jude. “I couldn’t be more pleased. We’ll continue to strive for that $200 million goal.”

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Sept. 15, 2021, 5:43 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 5:43 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The capsule seats rotated upward so the astronauts are in a more horizontal position to absorb the forces of liftoff. They’re about 6 minutes ahead of schedule.

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CreditCredit…SpaceX
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Sept. 15, 2021, 5:34 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 5:34 p.m. ET

Michael Roston

Editing Space Coverage

All four astronauts are now buckled into their seats as technicians prepare to seal them into the Crew Dragon capsule ahead of launch.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 5:18 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 5:18 p.m. ET

Michael Roston

Editing Space Coverage

The four astronauts have ascended the launch tower and are beginning to board the Crew Dragon capsule, two at a time.

Credit…SpaceX
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Sept. 15, 2021, 5:00 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 5:00 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The Inspiration4 crew, all suited up, have walked back out to the Teslas and are getting in for the ride to the launchpad.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 4:53 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 4:53 p.m. ET
The crew of Inspiration4 draw cheers as they set off to board the rocket that will carry them to orbit.Credit…Joe Skipper/Reuters

Unlike the missions that SpaceX flies for NASA, Inspiration4 is not going to the space station. Instead, the Resilience capsule will orbit Earth for three days at an altitude of up to 360 miles. That is about 150 miles higher than the International Space Station.

This flight path makes Inspiration4 more like some of NASA’s Mercury and Gemini missions during the 1960s that preceded the Apollo missions to the moon. It is also reminiscent of space shuttle flights before the construction of the space station.

Because Inspiration4 is not going to the space station, that allowed for a major modification to Resilience. SpaceX removed the docking port from the top of the capsule and installed a glass dome that will allow the crew to get a 360-degree view of space. It will be the largest contiguous window ever to be flown in space. There is also a camera that will take pictures of the crew members peering into space.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 4:40 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 4:40 p.m. ET

Michael Roston

Editing Space Coverage

The weather forecast has improved, according to the U.S. Space Force, which determines whether it is safe to launch. It now projects a 10 percent probability of violating weather rules, rather than 20 percent from an earlier forecast.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 4:08 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 4:08 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The Inspiration4 crew is riding in Tesla cars to the launchpad. They’ll get into their spacesuits at a SpaceX support room there, not the NASA facility where NASA astronauts get ready. That’s part of the shift from a government mission to a private one.

Credit…Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Credit…Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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Sept. 15, 2021, 4:00 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 4:00 p.m. ET

The four crew members of Inspiration4 will be inside a Crew Dragon capsule built by SpaceX. The capsule will launch on top of one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets.

It’s the exact same system that is used to take NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. Indeed, the capsule they are riding in, named Resilience, was used for a NASA mission that launched in November last year. It returned to Earth in May and was refurbished for the Inspiration4 mission.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 3:58 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 3:58 p.m. ET
The Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule sit on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.Credit…Craig Bailey/Florida Today, via Associated Press

The launch could occur as early as 8:02 p.m. But the action will begin hours before that.

If the schedule is similar to SpaceX’s earlier NASA astronaut flights, then about three and a half hours before the launch, the crew will begin donning their customized SpaceX spacesuits. Once technicians have confirmed the suits are properly fitted, the four astronauts will say goodbye to their families and be transported to the launchpad.

Approximately two and a half hours before the flight — around 5:30 p.m. Eastern time — the crew will board the Crew Dragon capsule. SpaceX technicians will then complete a number of procedures before sealing them inside the spacecraft, a process that could take about an hour.

About 45 minutes before the scheduled launch time, SpaceX will start loading propellent into the rocket and begin making final checks of the spacecraft’s systems and the weather to decide whether it is safe for the mission to launch.

Once the rocket launches, the capsule will begin a series of steps to be lifted to orbit, including separating from the rocket’s first and second stages. In the hour or so that follows, the spacecraft will fire its thrusters, setting it on the course it will follow until the astronauts return to Earth on Saturday.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 3:20 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 3:20 p.m. ET
Mr. Isaacman, founder and chief executive of Shift4 Payments. Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

He grew up in New Jersey and in ninth grade started a company offering help to befuddled computer users. One of his clients was a payment processing company, and its chief executive offered him a job. Mr. Isaacman took the job and dropped out of high school at age 16. He obtained a general educational development certificate, or G.E.D.

After half a year, Mr. Isaacman figured out a new way to handle payment processing, and in 1999 he founded his own company in his parents’ basement. That evolved into Shift4 Payments, which went public in June 2020.

Mr. Isaacman started flying as a hobby, learning to pilot more and more advanced aircraft including military fighter jets. In 2012, he started a second company called Draken International, which owns fighter jets and provides training for pilots in the United States military. He has since sold Draken but still flies fighter jets for fun.

Last year, Mr. Isaacman wanted to invest in SpaceX, which remains a privately held company, but missed the latest investment offering by the company. Mr. Isaacman tried to convince SpaceX officials of his enthusiasm by telling them he wanted to buy a trip to orbit someday. That led to conversations that resulted in Mr. Isaacman undertaking the Inspiration4 mission. He is serving as the mission’s commander.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 3:20 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 3:20 p.m. ET
From left, Hayley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski, Jared Isaacman and Sian Proctor, during a zero gravity flight to train for the Inspiration4 mission in July.Credit…John Kraus/Inspiration4, via Associated Press

In addition to Jared Isaacman, the mission’s commander, there are three more astronauts aboard the flight.

Hayley Arceneaux, 29, is a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis. Almost two decades ago, Ms. Arceneaux, who grew up in the small town of St. Francisville, La., was a patient at St. Jude when bone cancer was diagnosed in her left leg, just above the knee. Ms. Arceneaux went through chemotherapy, an operation to install prosthetic leg bones and long sessions of physical therapy.

“When I grow up, I want to be a nurse at St. Jude,” she said in a video shown at the ceremony in 2003. “I want to be a mentor to patients. When they come in, I’ll say, ‘I had that when I was little, and I’m doing good.'”

Last year, Ms. Arceneaux was hired by St. Jude. She works with children with leukemia and lymphoma.

Ms. Arceneaux could become the youngest American ever to travel to orbit. She will also be the first person with a prosthetic body part to go to space. She will be the health officer for the mission.

Sian Proctor, 51, is a community college professor from Tempe, Ariz.

Dr. Proctor, who is African American and holds a doctorate in science education, had come close to becoming an astronaut the old-fashioned way. She said that in 2009, she was among 47 finalists whom NASA selected from 3,500 applications. The space agency chose nine new astronauts that year. Dr. Proctor was not one of them.

She applied twice more and was not even among the finalists.

She still pursued her space dreams in other ways. In 2013, Dr. Proctor was one of six people who lived for four months in a small building on the side of a Hawaiian volcano, part of an effort financed by NASA to study the isolation and stresses of a long trip to Mars.

She will be the pilot on the Inspiration4 mission, the first Black woman to serve as the pilot of a spacecraft.

Christopher Sembroski, 42, of Everett, Wash., works in data engineering for Lockheed Martin. During college, Mr. Sembroski worked as a counselor at Space Camp, an educational program in Huntsville, Ala., that offers children and families a taste of what life as an astronaut is like. He also volunteered for ProSpace, a nonprofit advocacy group that pushed to open space to more people.

Mr. Sembroski described himself as “that guy behind the scenes, that’s really helping other people accomplish their goals and to take center stage.”

He’ll be the mission specialist for Inspiration4, and responsible for certain tasks during the mission.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 3:20 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 3:20 p.m. ET
Credit…Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A five-hour launch window opens Wednesday at 8:02 p.m. Eastern time. The exact time will depend on the weather. Current forecasts give an 80 percent chance of favorable conditions. In an update posted to Twitter at about 1:20 p.m., SpaceX said the rocket’s systems were ready for flight.

If the flight can’t launch during that five-hour time frame, SpaceX could try again on Thursday beginning at 8:05 p.m. Eastern time.

The launch will be streamed live by SpaceX on its YouTube channel, and also by Netflix on its YouTube channel. Or you can watch it in the video player embedded in our coverage here.

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