The first all-civilian crew of astronauts is now orbiting the Earth after the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched them into space in spectacular fashion late Wednesday.
Video from the launch showed the initial fireball light up the night sky as the rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 8:02 p.m. local time.
The capsule could be seen streaking across the sky as it gained altitude. About 12 minutes into the flight, a bright plume of light appeared as the Dragon capsule separated from the rocket’s second stage and the crew entered orbit, while the reusable first stage made its way back to Earth for a vertical landing on a sea barge.
The team of four amateur astronauts is led by billionaire e-commerce executive Jared Isaacman, 38, who is paying for the entire trip.
A SpaceX webcast of the launch showed Isaacman and his crewmates — Sian Proctor, 51, Hayley Arceneaux, 29, and Chris Sembroski, 42 — strapped into the pressurized cabin of the white SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, wearing their flight suits, complete with helmets.
The spaceship’s trajectory will take it to an altitude of 575 kilometers — deeper into space than the International Space Station.
After spending three days orbiting the Earth, the Dragon capsule will splash down off the Florida coast.
In a statement on its website, the U.S. space agency NASA said it was providing some support to SpaceX and the flight of Inspiration4 “on a fully reimbursable, non-interference basis,” including communications, ground control and services through the Kennedy Space Center.
The flight marks the debut of SpaceX owner Elon Musk’s new orbital tourism business.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.