01 February 2021

US billionaire buys SpaceX flight to orbit Earth with three others

01 February 2021

A US billionaire who made a fortune in tech and fighter jets is buying an entire SpaceX flight and plans to take three people with him to circle the globe this year.

Besides fulfilling his dream of flying in space, Jared Isaacman announced he aims to use the private trip to raise 200 million dollars (£146 million) for St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, based in Tennessee, with half coming from his own pockets.

A health care worker for St Jude has already been selected for the mission. Anyone donating to St Jude in February will be entered into a random draw for seat number three, and the fourth will go to a business owner who uses Shift4 Payments, Mr Isaacman’s credit card processing company in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

“I truly want us to live in a world 50 or 100 years from now where people are jumping in their rockets like the Jetsons and there are families bouncing around on the moon with their kid in a spacesuit,” said Mr Isaacman, who turns 38 next week.

“I also think if we are going to live in that world, we better conquer childhood cancer along the way.”

He has bought an ad at the Super Bowl next weekend to publicise the mission, dubbed Inspiration4 and targeted for October.

Details of the ride in a SpaceX Dragon capsule are still being worked out, including the number of days the four will be in orbit after blasting off from Florida. The other passengers will be announced next month.

The trip is the latest private space travel announcement. Three businessmen are paying 55 million dollars (£40 million) each to fly to the International Space Station next January aboard a SpaceX Dragon, and a Japanese businessman has a deal with SpaceX to fly to the moon in a few years.

Mr Isaacman would not divulge how much he is paying SpaceX, except to say that the anticipated donation to St Jude “vastly exceeds the cost of the mission”.

While a former Nasa astronaut will accompany the three businessmen, Mr Isaacman will serve as his own spacecraft commander.

We’re pinching ourselves every single day

The appeal, he said, is learning all about about SpaceX’s Dragon and Falcon 9 rocket. While the capsules are designed to fly autonomously, a pilot can override the system in an emergency.

A “space geek” since nursery age, Mr Isaacman dropped out of high school when he was 16, then started a business in his parents’ basement that became the genesis for Shift4.

He set a speed record flying around the world in 2009 while raising money for the Make-A-Wish programme, and later established Draken International, the world’s largest private fleet of fighter jets.

His 100 million dollar (£73 million) commitment to St Jude in Memphis is the largest by a single individual and one of the largest overall.

“We’re pinching ourselves every single day,” said Rick Shadyac, president of St Jude’s fundraising organisation.

Besides SpaceX training, Mr Isaacman intends to take his crew on a mountain expedition to mimic his most uncomfortable experience so far — camping on the side of a mountain in bitter winter conditions.

“We’re all going to get to know each other… really well before launch,” he said.

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