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SpaceX announces Inspiration4, the first all-civilian space flight for late 2021

Tuesday, February 2nd 2021, 5:15 pm - This will be the very first mission to launch without a professional astronaut on board.

For those who dream of blasting off to space, an important milestone towards fulfilling that dream may be happening this year.

On Monday, SpaceX announced that they will soon be launching the Inspiration4 mission into low-Earth orbit. Targetted for some time towards the end of this year, the private spaceflight company said that this multiday flight around the planet will be "the world's first all-commercial astronaut mission to orbit."

Not just anyone gets to go on this milestone space mission, however. Inspiration4 is funded and led by American billionaire Jared Isaacman, the founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments. The other three seats on this flight currently sit empty. They will be filled as part of a campaign to raise awareness and funds for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and their ongoing efforts to treat childhood cancer and other diseases.

According to the Inspiration4 website, the occupant of the first seat will represent Hope and be "[a] St. Jude ambassador with direct ties to the mission who exemplifies the pillar of Hope as well as the courageous vision upon which St. Jude was founded — compassion, unity, equality and inclusion."

SpaceXAstronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken launched to the International Space Station on Demo-2, SpaceX's first crewed Dragon launch, on May 30, 2020. Credit: NASA TV

The second seat represents Generosity and will be filled by the Win a Seat on Inspiration4 Sweepstakes contest. While any legal US resident can enter for a chance to win with a free entry, donations to St. Jude through the sweepstakes page result in more entries to the contest.

Meanwhile, the final seat on the flight represents Prosperity. It will be filled by an entrant to the Shift4Shop Inspiration4 Contest on Isaacman's Shift4Shop e-commerce website.

Both contests will run for the month of February, with crew selections announced in March. SpaceX is targetting a date "no earlier than Q4 2021" for the launch itself.

Unlike previous Crew Dragon launches into space, Inspiration4 will apparently not be headed towards the International Space Station. Instead, Isaacman and his three fellow crew members are expected to spend more than a day flying around Earth on the Dragon spacecraft, completing an orbit once every 90 minutes.

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