SpaceX announced Monday that it would fly a crew of private citizens into orbit around Earth, potentially by the end of the year, in a multiday mission designed to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The announcement comes after the company, founded by Elon Musk in 2002 to make space more accessible, flew two crews of NASA astronauts last year, as well as an astronaut from Japan, to the International Space Station. It also plans to fly a crew of four – all private citizens – to the International Space Station early next year.
The flight announced Monday would mark another significant milestone in the privatization of spaceflight as private companies erode governments’ long-held monopoly on human spaceflight. It is being funded by Jared Isaacman, the 37-year-old founder and chief executive of Shift4 Payments, a payments technology company. Isaacman, an accomplished pilot who flies commercial and military aircraft, would command the mission and is donating two of the seats to St. Jude.
One is going to be a yet-to-be named health-care worker at the hospital. The other seat would be raffled off in an attempt to raise at least $200 million for St. Jude.
The flight will leave from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, but NASA, the US government space agency, is not directly involved in planning the trip, in which the spacecraft will orbit Earth every 90 minutes. “NASA has been briefed on this and has been supportive,” Musk said.
It was unclear how much Isaacson was paying for the mission, but he said he is donating $100 million to St. Jude as part of the fundraising effort. “What we aim to raise in terms of those funds and the amount of good it will do will certainly far exceed the cost of the mission itself,” he said during a call with reporters.
The mission could last between two and four days, but Musk said the flight parameters were not yet defined. “You get to go where you want to go,” he said to Isaacman on the call.
The occupant of the fourth seat will be determined by a competition starting this month among users of Isaacson’s platform. The company plans to air an ad during Sunday’s Super Bowl to raise awareness about the mission and the opportunity to fly on it.
Isaacson said that contestants would make a video about their business and why they should be sent to space, and that the winner would be announced by an independent panel of judges.