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For The First Time, An All-Civilian Crew Is Orbiting The Earth

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

A new era of space travel has begun. SpaceX launched four people in orbit last night. None of them are astronauts. It's the first-ever all-civilian crew. Brendan Byrne with member station WMFE reports on how this mission is making history.

BRENDAN BYRNE, BYLINE: On board the SpaceX rocket - a billionaire, a medical worker, a geologist and an engineer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Three, two, one.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Ignition...

BYRNE: The Crew Dragon capsule launched into the Florida nighttime sky, and nine minutes later reached orbit.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Dragon SpaceX - nominal orbit insertion.

BYRNE: The mission, called Inspiration4, was bankrolled by billionaire Jared Isaacman and marks the first private passengers to use the Dragon spacecraft, designed initially to carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. For this mission, the crew is full of rookies, but all have a love of space. Sian Proctor is a geologist and once applied to become a NASA astronaut. Now she's just the fourth Black woman to reach orbit and the first to pilot a spacecraft.

SIAN PROCTOR: 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.

BYRNE: Proctor and Isaacman are joined by a childhood cancer survivor, Hayley Arceneaux, who, at 29, is the youngest person to orbit the Earth, and Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran and aerospace engineer. Commercial space analyst Laura Forczyk says, unlike the suborbital trips this summer by billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, this mission aims to get ordinary people off the planet. She says, while future passengers won't fly for free like on this trip, it's inspirational.

LAURA FORCZYK: I certainly hope that people, especially children looking at this mission, can go see themselves in the people who are flying and the people who are working.

BYRNE: With the launch, there are now a record 14 people in orbit. This crew will spend three days in space conducting science experiments, speaking with kids back here on Earth and just enjoying the view before splashing down off Florida later this week.

For NPR News, I'm Brendan Byrne at the Kennedy Space Center. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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