SpaceX Live Updates: The Inspiration4 Crew Embarks on a 3-Day Mission in Orbit

Four amateur astronauts who have never been to space before are on their way to an adventure in space unlike any before.,

LiveUpdated Sept. 15, 2021, 9:21 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 9:21 p.m. ET

Four amateur astronauts who have never been to space before are on their way to an adventure in space unlike any before.

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The four crew members of the Inspiration4 mission, all civilians, reached orbit. The capsule they are riding in, named Resilience, will orbit Earth for three days at an altitude of up to 360 miles.CreditCredit…SpaceX
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Sept. 15, 2021, 9:12 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 9:12 p.m. ET
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Credit…SpaceX

For most of the mission, if nothing goes wrong, the Crew Dragon spacecraft will operate autonomously with the assistance of SpaceX’s mission control at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.

The astronauts’ main task is to monitor the spacecraft’s systems. In the case of malfunctions, however, the crew, especially Mr. Isaacman as the commander and Dr. Proctor as the pilot, have learned how to take over the flying of Resilience.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 9:08 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 9:08 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The Crew Dragon has completed its first thruster firing to put it on an elliptical trajectory moving farther away from Earth.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:50 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:50 p.m. ET
Jared Isaacman, left, and Hayley Arceneaux before the launch on Wednesday.Credit…John Raoux/Associated Press

Mr. Isaacman has declined to say how much he is paying for this orbital trip, only that it was less than the $200 million he hopes to raise for St. Jude Children’s Hospital with an accompanying fund-raising drive.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:33 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:33 p.m. ET

Michael Roston

Editing Space Coverage

Typically when NASA launches astronauts, the agency provides continuous streaming coverage of the flight. We’re waiting to learn what more we’ll hear from the crew aboard the Resilience capsule tonight.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:30 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:30 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The first thruster firing, lasting 10 minutes, puts the capsule on an elliptical orbit, taking it to a higher altitude. The second firing, about an hour after liftoff, makes the orbit circular at 360 miles above Earth’s surface.

Credit…Agence France-Presse, via Spacex
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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:25 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:25 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

Those thruster firings will happen over the next couple of hours. The SpaceX broadcast just ended.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:24 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:24 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The Crew Dragon will be firing its thrusters twice to raise its altitude to 360 miles.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:18 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:18 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The astronauts just opened up their visors.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:17 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:17 p.m. ET
The Falcon 9 rocket during launch.Credit…Thom Baur/Reuters

When NASA owned and operated its own spacecraft, there was no chance it would rent out a Saturn 5 rocket or a space shuttle to someone else. But during the Obama administration, NASA decided to hire private companies to take its astronauts to the space station. One of the program’s secondary goals was to spur more commercial use of low-Earth orbit. A decade later, SpaceX can offer trips to people who are not NASA astronauts.

“I’m very bullish on the tourism market and the tourism activity,” Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development, said during a news conference in May. “I think more people that are going to fly, they’re going to want to do more things in space.”

In addition, the Crew Dragon, built with the latest of technologies, is essentially a self-driving spaceship. When things are working properly, there is very little that the crew has to do to operate the capsule.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:15 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:15 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The Crew Dragon capsule has separated from the second stage. The Inspiration4 mission is now circling Earth.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:13 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:13 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The booster has successfully landed on the floating platform.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:12 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:12 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The second stage engine has shut down. They are in orbit.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:11 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:11 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The booster stage fired engines to slow down as it reenters the atmosphere; the second stage continues to push the Crew Dragon to orbit.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:09 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:09 p.m. ET

Michael Roston

Editing Space Coverage

Fist bumps in the capsule by the crew.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:06 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:06 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The booster is now falling back to Earth, headed for a landing on a floating platform in the Atlantic.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:06 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:06 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

Second stage engine is firing.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:06 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:06 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The booster stage has done its work.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:06 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:06 p.m. ET

Michael Roston

Editing Space Coverage

“Looks like a smooth ride for the crew,” John Insprucker, a SpaceX engineer, said over the live video stream.

Credit…SpaceX
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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:04 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:04 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The roar of the rocket engines just rumbled past the press site.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:03 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:03 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

Liftoff!

Credit…SpaceX
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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:02 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:02 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

T-1 minute

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:01 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:01 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

Two minutes to go. The rocket should be fully fueled now.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 8:00 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 8:00 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

The sun has gone down. But the sky will become bright again when Inspiration4 takes off. It’s hard to appreciate how bright rocket flames are without seeing them directly.

Credit…SpaceX
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Sept. 15, 2021, 7:58 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 7:58 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

Five minutes to go. This is the quiet before the roar of blastoff.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 7:55 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 7:55 p.m. ET
While past astronaut flights have been managed by NASA, SpaceX tracks its trips from its own mission control in Hawthorne, Calif.Credit…SpaceX

As the four amateur astronauts head into space, the voice of Sarah Gillis will guide them into orbit.

Ms. Gillis is the lead space operations engineer for SpaceX, and her job includes training the astronauts on all safety aspects and operations of the flight.

Before takeoff, Ms. Gillis wished the crew good luck and a godspeed.

“It has been an absolute honor to prepare you for this historic flight,” she said.

In the Netflix documentary “Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space,” Jared Isaacman, the mission’s commander paying for the trip, described her role as the equivalent of the “CapCom” on a NASA mission. That’s short for “Capsule Communication,” traditionally an astronaut on the ground who speaks with the crew in the spacecraft.

“The burden of ‘Will we execute well or not?’ will really fall on her,” Mr. Isaacman said in the documentary.

Ms. Gillis has been working for months with Mr. Isaacman and the other three astronauts to ensure they’re fully prepared for their trip, down to such details as how to operate a fire extinguisher on the flight.

“There’s two hats that you have to wear to be successful at that,” she said in the documentary. “One is the operational hat, where you need to understand exactly what actions you need to take to keep them safe. On the other aspect, I care very deeply about every single one of these people now.”

Ms. Gillis graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder with an engineering degree. In the Netflix documentary she said she was encouraged to pursue engineering by a high school mentor who was a former astronaut.

Ms. Gillis is also a classically trained violinist who started to learn how to play when she was 2 from her mother, a professional violinist.

“She certainly did not raise me to be an engineer,” she said.

This is not the first crew of astronauts riding in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. In April, Ms. Gillis helped guide NASA’s Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station.

The flight was not without incident, as she had to warn the crew that a piece of space debris was about to come too close to their spacecraft for comfort. The crew was getting ready to go to sleep when she told them to perform a number of safety procedures, including putting their spacesuits back on.

The flight continued to the space station without incident and later analysis showed that it had been a false alarm, and no debris actually passed near the spacecraft.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 7:45 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 7:45 p.m. ET
In the months leading up to their flight, the Inspiration4 astronauts went through training similar to what NASA astronauts endure.Credit…Inspiration 4/Reuters

SpaceX trained the Inspiration4 crew in largely the same way it has trained NASA crews.

To prepare themselves for the rigors of spaceflight, the crew members were swung around a large centrifuge at the National Aerospace Training and Research Center in Pennsylvania, simulating the forces they will experience during launch and re-entry into the atmosphere at the end of the mission.

They also made trips in a plane that flies in giant arcs that allow the occupants to feel as if they are in zero-gravity for about half a minute. (Gravity does not turn off; rather, the plane dives at the same rate as the people inside are falling, providing them the illusion that they are floating.)

The four went camping on Mount Rainier in Washington State, part of a team-building exercise organized by Mr. Isaacman.

While the Crew Dragon capsule is automated and usually flies itself, the Inspiration4 crew nonetheless underwent much of the same training as NASA astronauts to handle situations if something goes wrong. That included spending 30 continuous hours in a Crew Dragon simulator.

Mr. Isaacman said the hardest part was the deluge of technical information dumped on them.

“It was a little bit of death by PowerPoint for a couple weeks,” he said during Tuesday’s news conference. “But then it immediately went into kind of the more fun phase where now you’re taking all that knowledge that you’ve accumulated and you’re putting it to practical use.”

The 30-hour-long simulation turned out to be a highlight, not an ordeal.

In weekslong simulations of missions to Mars and the moon that Dr. Proctor had participated in previously, “Sometimes, you know, there’s a crew member you might want to kick out,” she said. “But in this case, there wasn’t any of that. We live together. We operate it together. We have fun together, and it really just made me want to do it again and it got me so excited for when we do it up in orbit.”

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Sept. 15, 2021, 7:43 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 7:43 p.m. ET

Kenneth Chang

Reporting From Kennedy Space Center

T-20 minutes.

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Sept. 15, 2021, 7:32 p.m. ETSept. 15, 2021, 7:32 p.m. ET
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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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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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, 4:00 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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