KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – The world is preparing to watch four non-professionals become astronauts after launching from Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday night.
Until recently NASA hadn’t launched humans from Florida since 2011 but last year, thanks to Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, astronauts began launching from Kennedy Space Center once again. Now, SpaceX will try to usher in a new era of human spaceflight with the Inspiration4 mission.
The crew is made up of all civilians, none of whom have undergone NASA astronaut training. Instead, billionaire businessman Jared Isaacman purchased a ride from SpaceX and through a massive fundraising campaign for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and a national competition filled the other three seats on the Dragon spacecraft. The rest of the crew include St. Jude physicians assistant Hayley Arceneaux, geoscience professor Dr. Sian Proctor and aerospace engineer Chris Sembroski.
Learn more about the crew here and what sets this mission apart from other human spaceflights, even those by other private companies.
The launch window opens at 8:02 p.m. Wednesday and runs until 1:13 a.m. Thursday. The weather is currently 80% favorable for liftoff during the 5-hour window.
While the countdown and launch Wednesday may look a little similar to the recent SpaceX launches with NASA astronauts there are several differences. Below find a breakdown of the timeline to launch and what happens after the spacecraft is in orbit.
Countdown to launch (Times are estimated based on the current launch schedule)
- 1-3 p.m.: Crew wake up and final medical checks.
- 3:05-4:55 p.m.: The four soon-to-be astronauts will have one more meal before liftoff and have the opportunity to say goodbye to their families. NASA astronaut launches include a moment outside the KSC Operations and Checkout building where this happens on camera but the Inspiration4 goodbye will be a private moment.
- 4:10-5:26 p.m.: The crew will depart SpaceX Hangar X and be transported to SpaceX’s suit-up room. This is the first time the SpaceX suit-up room will be used. NASA astronauts don their suits in the KSC O&C building.
- 5:27 p.m.: Crew boarding is expected to begin. With the help of the SpaceX team the future astronauts will climb into the Dragon Resilience spacecraft atop the Falcon 9 rocket. Teams will move the spacecraft seats into launch positions and perform suit leak checks as well as communication checks with the crew
- 6:07 p.m.: SpaceX teams will close the spacecraft hatch and check for a good seal before leaving the launch tower.
- Around 7 p.m.: SpaceX will arm the Dragon spacecraft launch escape system. Should anything go wrong during the liftoff, this automatic system would send the spacecraft away from the rocket and land in the Atlantic Ocean. This system needs to be armed before SpaceX begins fueling the Falcon 9 rocket.
- T-minus 47 minutes to liftoff: Final “Go” or “no go” before the Falcon 9 rocket fueling begins.
- T-minus 42 minutes: The crew arm, or walkway, to the launch tower retracts.
- T-minus 35 minutes: SpaceX will begin loading rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen into the first stage. Soon after, the second stage of the rocket begins to be filled with liquid oxygen, too.
- T-minus 7 minutes: Falcon 9′s nine Merlin engines that power the first stage will be chilled for liftoff. The Merlin engines have to be conditioned for the super-cold liquid oxygen that fuels the rocket engines.
- T-minus 5 minutes: The Dragon spacecraft is turned on to internal power.
- T-minus 1 minute: Falcon 9 startup and final “go” or “no go” before liftoff.
Launch, landing and orbit
Liftoff: Generating more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust, the Falcon 9 will blast off from launchpad 39A, sending Crew Dragon and its four passengers into space.
- +1:02 minute after liftoff: The Falcon 9 experiences MaxQ, or the moment of greatest mechanical stress on the hardware.
- +2:37: First-stage main engine cutoff (MECO).
- +2:40: First stage and second stage separation. Second stage startup happens right after.
- +7:30: Rocket booster begins re-entry burn.
- +9:31: after liftoff: Falcon 9 booster lands on SpaceX’s droneship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” in the Atlantic Ocean.
- +12:09: after liftoff: Dragon spacecraft separates from Falcon 9 second stage.
- +13:02: Dragon nosecone opens in space, revealing new cupola astronauts can lookout. The Dragon’s new cupola will be the largest “contiguous space window ever flown,” according to SpaceX.
The Inspiration4 mission will last three days before the Dragon splashes down off either Florida coast.
The spacecraft will reach an altitude of 575 kilometers, or 357 miles, above Earth. This altitude is above the International Space Station which orbits Earth about 260 miles above and above the Hubble Space Telescope at 335 miles.