3, 2, 1, Takeoff! SpaceX Launches Inspiration4, World's First All-Civilian Crew to Orbit Earth
The future of space travel is here.
Inspiration4, the world's first all-civilian crew to orbit Earth, launched at 8:02 p.m. EDT Wednesday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, starting their three-day mission inside a SpaceX Dragon capsule.
The crew consists of Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old cancer survivor and physician assistant at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee; billionaire Jared Isaacman, the 38-year-old Shift4 Payments CEO who is paying Elon Musk's SpaceX for the mission; geoscientist and artist Dr. Sian Proctor, 51; and data engineer Christopher Sembroski, 41. Together they will take the automated Crew Dragon Resilience higher into space than anyone's gone in nearly 15 years.
With the launch, Arceneaux becomes the youngest American, the first person with a prosthesis and the first pediatric cancer survivor to ever orbit Earth.
"The one thing that I'm most excited about this mission is that I'm going up with a big rod in my leg," the mission's medical officer, who was treated at St. Jude as a child and later decided to work there as an adult, previously told PEOPLE. "I could have never have been an astronaut until this mission because I would have had to have been physically perfect, and I don't fit into that category. I love that this mission is changing that."
Meanwhile, Proctor becomes the first Black woman to serve as a pilot in space, plus the fourth Black woman to travel to space.
"It's really special for me to hold that title," said Proctor, whose motto as a teacher has been "space2inspire."
"I have this opportunity to not only accomplish my dream, but also inspire the next generation of women of color and girls of color — and really get them to think about reaching for the stars," Proctor added.
Isaacman, an accomplished pilot serving as commander, has dedicated the flight to raising money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. After donating $100 million of his own money to St. Jude, the billionaire helped kick off a campaign to raise a total of $200 million for the hospital, which treats child cancer patients and helps their families cope with the process.
"We do firmly believe that there is going to be a world, 50 or 100 years from now, where people are going to be jumping in their rockets like the Jetsons, and you're going to have families bouncing around on the moon with their kids at a lunar base," Isaacman said.
"If we can accomplish all of that," he added, "we sure as heck better tackle childhood cancer along the way."
For Sembroski, the opportunity to join the mission came after he donated to St. Jude and entered a random drawing for a seat onboard — a contest that had been advertised on the Super Bowl.
A married father of two based in Seattle, Sembroski previously told PEOPLE that he snagged his spot after a friend who'd won the sweepstakes was unable to go. "It was just an unreal moment of overwhelming shock," the mission specialist said of learning his dream would come true. "So surreal."
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Proctor — who was a finalist in the NASA astronaut selection process in 2009 — called earning her seat through a social media campaign a "golden ticket moment."
"This is an experience that I've dreamt about and now I'm actually getting to experience it," she told PEOPLE.
In her final diary entry for PEOPLE before takeoff, Arceneaux said she's feeling "calm and excited."
"I expected to be nervous at this point," she wrote. "And it's not that it hasn't sunk in — I'm VERY aware that I'm about to go to space — but I'm feeling so peaceful about it."