A SpaceX rocket soared into orbit Wednesday evening, carrying four people — none of whom are professional astronauts — and kicking off the first-ever mission to Earth’s orbit crewed entirely by tourists.
The launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida was dramatically illuminated with spotlights against the night sky, and when the SpaceX rocket’s nine engines fired up just after 8 pm ET it flooded the surrounding wetlands with a blaze of light as it soared into the upper atmosphere and made a dramatic, ghostly light show overhead.
After reaching orbital speeds — more than 17,000 miles per hour — the capsule carrying the four passengers detached from the rocket and began to maneuver toward its intended orbit.
The team of amateurs — which include a billionaire who self-funded the mission, a cancer survivor, a community college teacher and a Lockheed Martin employee — strapped into their 13-foot-wide SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule Wednesday afternoon before their SpaceX rocket roared to life and blasted the capsule into orbit.
The crew will remain aboard their capsule for three days as it flies through orbit before returning for a splashdown landing off the coast of Florida on Saturday.
For the next three days, the passengers will float around the capsule as it circles around the planet once every 90 minutes, traveling at more than 17,500 miles per hour, while the passengers float and take in panoramic views of Earth.
To cap off the journey, their spacecraft will dive back into the atmosphere for a fiery re-entry and splashdown off the coast of Florida.
Splashdown is currently slated for Saturday, but that could change if weather or other issues prompt an earlier or later return. The capsule is stocked with enough food and supplies for about a week.
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