"Punch it, SpaceX," said tech billionaire Jared Isaacman moments before the countdown reached zero. In just three hours, he and three others would be 364 miles out from earth's orbit, farther out than any spacefarer had been since 2009.
But he, and his crew, weren't just any astronauts. They were private citizens without any formal training, and their flight, dubbed Inspiration4, could've marked the beginning of a whole new era in space travel, which could be loosely dubbed "the Commercial Era."
"We are seeing a sort of renaissance in commercial orbital human space transportation," said Phil McAlister, NASA's director of commercial spaceflight. "For the first time in human history, you can go to a private company and purchase a ticket to orbit. You've never been able to do that; historically, you had to go to a government agency."
In their SpaceX Dragon capsule, Isaacman and company hope to raise $200 million for cancer research at St. Jude Children's Hospital by selling souvenirs and other mementos from their flight. So far, the flight has raised at least $30 million from contributions, with an additional $100 million coming from Isaacman himself.
Not only is Inspiration4 the first flight piloted solely by "amateur astronauts," it's also the first space flight piloted by a woman of color, namely Sian Proctor, 51, a geoscientist, and a 2009 finalist for astronaut selection by NASA.
"There have been three Black female astronauts that have made it to space, and knowing that I'm going to be the fourth means that 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," Sian told reporters.
Haley Arceneaux, 29, is the crew's medical officer, a cancer survivor, and physicians assistant at St. Jude, who also happens to represent the first person with a prosthetic limb in space. The final crew member, Chris Sembroski, 42, mission specialist, earned his stripes as a member of the Air Force in the Iraq war.
All in all, the crew spent a total of 9 months prepping for the three-day mission. Some exercises included spins in the centrifuge and flights in Isaacman's fleet of decommissioned fighter jets. Ahead of liftoff, Isaacman said he had "no jitters," and was "excited to get going."
At the time of this writing, it seems that his intuition has been proven right.
While SpaceX developed the Crew Dragon capsule and the Falcon 9 rocket under the heavy hand of NASA, the space agency had little input in terms of crew selection or training for the mission.
However, the lack of input on NASA's part was deliberate, as Inspiration4 represents the apex of the agency's efforts to privatize space flight.
"This is the culmination of what we envisioned for the Commercial Crew Program 10 years ago," said McAlister. "The program wouldn't be fully successful, unless we had these kinds of missions [like Inspiration4]."
SpaceX has many similar missions left on its docket after Inspiration4 touches down somewhere in the Atlantic or off the Gulf of Mexico.
Japanese billionaire Yusuaku Maezawa is booked for a trip around the moon in 2023, while Axiom Space plans to fly four people to the International Space Station early next year.