Shift4 Payments founder and CEO Jared Isaacman has announced that he will give away seats on a privately funded flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. An experienced pilot of both military and commercial airplanes, Isaacman will command a mission with a total of four people. The mission is slated to fly in the fourth quarter of 2021.
“Today’s announcement is the first step of a very exciting journey. In the lead-up to launch, we’ll share new ways to support and follow our mission preparation and execution with a focus on inspiring and helping others,” Isaacman said in a press release issued by Inspiration4.
Isaacman intends to use the flight to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, which provides free healthcare to children with serious health ailments and conducts research into treatments and cures for ailments that commonly affect children. For a donation of as little as $10, people can enter a drawing to win one of the three seats on the Crew Dragon that Isaacman plans to give away. Aspiring participants can also enter a separate sweepstakes for another seat on the same mission by trying out the ecommerce solution Shift4Shop.
SpaceX has touted the mission as its first all-civilian crewed mission. It will launch from the legendary Launch Complex 39A at Cape Canaveral. The mission plan includes five days in orbit in what SpaceX called “a customized flight path.” Musk indicated that he expects the final crew to be announced “in the weeks ahead.”
“This is an important milestone towards enabling access to space for everyone,” Musk told reporters in a media call.
Isaacman has committed to a minimum donation of $100 million to St. Jude’s to support its planned expansions and hopes to raise at least $200 million through the giveaway of seats on the Crew Dragon. He could actually pull it off with enough visibility, considering that demand for privatized “space tourism” is high. Virgin Galactic says it has a list of 600 people who have made deposits to make a brief suborbital hop on its spacecraft once it becomes fully operational. Russia has sent several paying “space tourists” to the International Space Station, the first being Dennis Tito in 2007.
SpaceX itself has also recently announced the first private mission to the International Space Station, to be led by retired NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria. It also plans to send a mission led by Japanese fashion mogul Yusaku Maezawa around the Moon in 2023.
Musk has acknowledged that sending civilians into space can be risky, especially in light of the recent loss of the Starship prototype SN8 and an FAA investigation that was apparently sparked by safety concerns and has definitely gotten on Musk’s nerves, although he believes that privatized spaceflight is worth the risk.
“Any mission where there’s a crew onboard makes me nervous. The risk is not zero,” he said of it. “When you’ve got a brand new mode of transportation, you have to have pioneers.”
Jared Isaacman has dubbed the mission “Inspiration4” to reflect the four people who will fly on the mission. Entries for the ongoing sweepstakes will close on February 28.