KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – A cancer survivor, record-setting pilot, doctor and a U.S. Air Force veteran sit inside the capsule waiting for the countdown to begin.
Their hearts race with excitement about what’s to come. Their minds too occupied with the thrill of traveling to space, and making history in the process, to stress over any dangers they may encounter.
Ten, nine, eight, seven – the countdown has started.
Below the astronauts is the Falcon 9 rocket booster filled with 272,491 pounds of RP-1, space grade kerosene and 633,829 pounds of liquid oxygen. That combination produces 1.7 million pounds of thrust, which is required to break Earth’s gravity and propel the crew into orbit.
During the launch, the crew will experience up to three Gs, or three times the force of Earth’s gravity. Once in orbit, about 357 miles above Earth, the crew will travel 17,500 mph and encircle the Earth every 90 minutes.
Six, five, four – thousands of people across Florida’s space coast get their cell phones and cameras ready and point them toward the sky.
Three, two, one – ignition.
At approximately 8:03 p.m. EDT Sept. 15 at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the rocket ignites and propels Space-X’s Dragon Resilience capsule and its four occupants into the sky.
The mission, known as Inspiration4, is the first to launch four exclusively private citizens into space. For three days, the crew, which consists of Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran who now works in the aviation industry, Dr. Sian Proctor, a geoscientist, and Hayley Arceneaux, a physician’s assistant at St. Jude Medical Center, will orbit the Earth.
Inside the Morrell Operations Center at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, a team of U.S. Space Force Guardians monitored the mission.
“Being part of this mission, sending four private civilians to space for the first time ever, is an amazing feeling,” said 1st Lt. Ashley Hall, 1st Range Operations Squadron training flight commander, who also served as the surveillance control officer for the launch. “I remember watching the last shuttle launch on TV thinking how cool it would be to play a role, any role, in sending humans to space. Today, I get to be a part of that. It’s just one step closer to making space travel more accessible to everyone. I can’t wait until it’s my turn.”
The MOC supports every launch from CCSFS and Kennedy Space Center with rocket tracking, as well as air and sea space monitoring, to ensure public safety. Since 2019, the facility has supported 76 launches, including missions that delivered communication and weather satellites into orbit, as well as three crewed missions.
According to the Inspiration4 website, the launch’s goals are to raise awareness and funds to support medical research, while the crew conducts science experiments in orbit for three days. The goal of the fundraising effort is to raise $200 million.
Each member of the crew was selected out of thousands who applied. Issacman, a jet-pilot, holds several world records including two Speed-Around-The-World flights in 2008 and 2009. Arceneaux was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer when she was 10-years-old. Cured, she now works at St. Jude Medical Center treating leukemia and lymphoma patients.
While in the Air Force, Sembroski maintained a fleet of Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles and deployed to Iraq. Soria is an analog astronaut who has completed four analog missions, including the all-female Sensoria Mars 2020 mission at the Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation Habitat.
As the surveillance control officer for the Inspiration launch, Hall, who hails from Chicago, was responsible for managing a team of eight Guardians, Airmen, U.S. Coast Guardsmen and Department of Defense civilians.
“My role is to lead my team as they ensure the air and sea space are clear to mitigate any danger to the public from the launch,” Hall said. “We have safety zones that extend 5 nautical miles out from the launch pad and we want to avoid a situation where an aircraft or a boat enters that space.”
The launch was also a demonstration of what the USSF refers to as ‘Launch on Demand,’ said 1st Lt. Nicholas Francoeur, 1st ROPS range operations commander.
“This launch showcases that at any time, we can assemble a team of operators who are fully qualified and ready to meet the challenges and tempo of the growing launch community,” Francoeur, a native of Bedford, New Hampshire, said. “It also shows that we can handle whatever comes our way and are ready to operate at a moment’s notice.”
The 1st ROPS is responsible for ensuring public safety for all launches across the Eastern Range, an area that covers 15 million square miles, said 1st Lt. Stephen Pitre, 1st ROPS range engineer from Seattle. The unit supports U.S. national security objectives by ensuring launch capabilities on the East Coast for the DOD, NASA, as well as commercial and international partners.
“Prior to the Inspiration launch, we overhauled some of our procedures we use to execute launch countdowns,” Pitre said. “This helped improve fidelity of our processes, as well as ensure accuracy and cohesiveness between the various positions that support launches.”
A commitment to always improve capabilities is something that has a profound impact on the launch mission, Pitre said.
“Improving our scheduling and planning capabilities to reduce the amount of time between a customer’s request to launch and our ability to support launch countdowns, that’s what launch on demand is all about,” he said. “A quicker turnaround to launch means that payloads and space capabilities can be delivered to the American people and the warfighter much quicker.”
For the historic mission, Francoeur served as the public safety team leader and senior range operations commander.
“That entailed monitoring the ‘Go/No Go’ status of our surveillance team, checking our tracking and telemetry capabilities, communicating with Space-X, and advising Space launch Delta 45 leadership about possible anomalous scenarios,” he said.
He hopes the American public realizes the significance of the Inspiration4 mission.
“I want Americans to know that Inspiration symbolizes more than sending four private citizens into orbit for the first time; it is a sign of advancement and progress in the final frontier,” he said. “Every historic step we take as Americans toward the future in space is a testament to the hard work and dedication of every team supporting the American launch industry.”
At the core of each American is an adventurous spirit and a willingness to push through challenges, which is being displayed here, he added.
“Whether civilian, contractor, or military, we are all here for the same mission no matter how difficult it may be,” Francoeur said. “Inspiration is American through and through.”