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The 1st All-Civilian Crew Has Launched To Orbit The Earth

In a first, the SpaceX mission has launched four civilians: Chris Sembroski (from left), Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman and Hayley Arceneaux.
John Kraus
In a first, the SpaceX mission has launched four civilians: Chris Sembroski (from left), Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman and Hayley Arceneaux.

Updated September 15, 2021 at 8:13 PM ET

For the first time, a group of all civilians, four in total, have launched in a SpaceX mission to orbit the planet.

The commander of the flight, Jared Isaacman, is the founder and billionaire CEO of Shift4 Payments. He is accompanied by Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital; Chris Sembroski, an aerospace data engineer; and pilot and geoscientist Sian Proctor.

It's the latest step in the commercialization of space. By going into orbit, the crew of four will travel further into space than the recent privately funded Blue Origin mission that had Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos on board.

It has not been disclosed how much Isaacman paid for him and the crew to get sent into space.

The mission, dubbed Inspiration4, will help support Isaacman's goal to raise $200 million to help cure children's cancer. While in orbit, the crew will also conduct research "designed to advance human health on Earth and during future long-duration spaceflights," according to SpaceX.

The flight launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The astronauts will land off the coast of Florida after approximately three days.

How civilians train for spaceflight

How do civilians train to go into space, you might be wondering? There's some crossover with how astronauts themselves train.

Since March, the Inspiration4 crew has completed centrifuge training, simulations, observing other SpaceX launches, zero-gravity plane training, altitude training, classroom training and medical testing, SpaceX says.

"This focused preparation was essential in team development and being ready to execute their role as the first commercial crew to orbit the Earth," the Inspiration4 website says.

It's also worth mentioning that SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft largely functions on its own and doesn't require much human input to operate.

The crew arrived in Florida on Thursday from Hawthorne, Calif., where they had been training.

Out-of-this-world memorabilia will take flight too

Space memorabilia is not a new thing. Astronauts have been taking up personal items and bringing back pieces of history since human spaceflight began.

But some of the items going up on this mission are pretty unique, and many will be auctioned off to raise money for St. Jude's.

For the first time, an NFT(nonfungible token) song, from the band Kings of Leon, will be played in space; 50 other art NFTs will also be present. Also on board will be 66 pounds of hops that, after coming back, will be used by Samuel Adams to brew the official beer of the Inspiration4 mission, a ukulele that Sembroski will play aboard the spacecraft and a recent Time magazine cover of the four crew members.

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Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.