World’s first all-civilian space mission will be helmed by a tech CEO trained by SpaceX

By Lydia Dishman

February 01, 2021

Call it a match made in heaven, er, space.

In what will be the world’s first all-civilian space mission, Jared Isaacman, the founder and CEO of Shift4Payments, and three other private citizens will go through commercial astronaut training courtesy of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and fly on its Dragon craft, the companies announced today. Isaacman, who has logged thousands of hours of flying and is licensed to fly both commercial and military aircraft, will command the flight called Inspiration4.

The mission, so named as a nod to the four crew members and their hope to inspire support for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, is scheduled to launch late this year from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The multi-day (two to four days, Musk said, ultimately to be decided by Isaacman) journey will conclude with the Dragon spacecraft reentering the Earth’s atmosphere and landing in the water off the coast of Florida. More details, such as how high and how far the journey will take them, still have to be hammered out.

“Wherever you want to go, we will take you there,” Musk quipped to Isaacman during a press briefing on Monday.

As for the connection to children’s cancer, “The same year St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital broke boundaries by opening its doors, the first American orbited the Earth in 1962,” explained Richard C. Shadyac Jr., president and CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude, in a statement.

As a pilot, Isaacman has flown in over 100 airshows and donated all the proceeds from his performances to charitable causes, including the Make A Wish Foundation. With this mission, Isaacman is aiming much higher. Not only will this begin commercial space exploration with a private crew, but he is hoping that Inspiration4 will bring awareness and funding for St. Jude’s multi-billion-dollar expansion, thereby speeding up research efforts to save more kids with cancer globally.

Isaacman said he has no personal family experience with childhood cancer but is committing to donate $100 million on his own and hopes that others will donate as much or more to the cause.

Isaacman said he is also going to foot the bill for the space flight. He is offering two seats on the Inspiration4 to crew members tied to the St. Jude mission. One, he said, will be a frontline healthcare worker at St. Jude—and he hinted that this would be a woman. The other will be selected from someone in the general public who makes a donation through a national fundraising campaign that will run the entire month of February.

The third seat will be selected from a group of entrepreneurs by Isaacsman and Shift4Payments. Isaacman said they are invited to create a website using the new Shift4Shop e-commerce platform and make a video that explains how they want to “elevate their business to the stars.”

For his part, Musk, the founder of SpaceX, said Inspiration4 will also serve to break down barriers for commercial space flights. “Missions like this bring the cost down over time and make space accessible to all,” he said.

Musk declined to say how many flights per year he thought SpaceX would eventually launch.