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CIRCLE EXPLAINER

EXPLAINER: 4 will circle Earth on 1st SpaceX private flight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — For the first time in 60 years of human spaceflight, a rocket is poised to blast into orbit with no professional astronauts on board, only four tourists.SpaceX’s first private flight will be led by a 38-year-old entrepreneur who’s bankrolling the entire trip. He’s taking two sweepstakes winners with him on…

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — For the first time in 60 years of human spaceflight, a rocket is poised to blast into orbit with no professional astronauts on board, only four tourists.

SpaceX’s first private flight will be led by a 38-year-old entrepreneur who’s bankrolling the entire trip. He’s taking two sweepstakes winners with him on the three-day, round-the-world trip, along with a health care worker who survived childhood cancer.

They’ll ride alone in a fully automated Dragon capsule, the same kind that SpaceX uses to send astronauts to and from the International Space Station for NASA. But the chartered flight won’t be going there.

Set to launch Wednesday night from Kennedy Space Center, the two men and two women will soar 100 miles (160 kilometers) higher than the space station, aiming for an altitude of 357 miles (575 kilometers), just above the current position of the Hubble Space Telescope.

By contrast, Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos briefly skimmed space during their short rides in July — Branson reached 53 miles (86 kilometers) while Bezos hit 66 miles up (106 kilometers).

As the private flight’s benefactor, Jared Isaacman, sees it: “This is the first step toward a world where everyday people can go and venture among the stars.”

A look at the spaceflight, dubbed Inspiration4:

BILLIONAIRE’S QUEST

Isaacman’s idea of fun is flying fighter jets and keeping up with the Air Force Thunderbirds. He quit high school and started his own payment-processing company, Shift4 Payments in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He segued into aviation, founding Draken International for tactical aircraft training. While he won’t divulge what he’s paying for the flight, Isaacman acknowledges the “worthwhile debates” over whether the wealthy should spend their fortunes fixing problems on Earth, versus sightseeing in space. But he contends investing in space now will lower costs in the future. “Because it’s so expensive, space has been the exclusive domain of world superpowers and the elite that they select,” he told The Associated Press last week. “It just shouldn’t stay that way.” When he announced the flight in February, he pledged $100 million to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and aims to raise another $100 million in donations.

LUCK OF THE DRAW

Isaacman offered one of the four capsule seats to St. Jude, which offered it to physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux, a former patient who now works at the Memphis, Tennessee, hospital. Now 29, Arceneaux was 10 when diagnosed with bone cancer, and had much of her left thigh bone replaced with a titanium rod. She’ll be the first person in space with a prosthesis, proud to pave the way for “those who aren’t physically perfect.” She’ll also be the youngest American in space, beating the late Sally Ride, who became the first American woman in space in 1983 at age 32. Contest winners claimed the final two seats. Sian Proctor, 51, a community college educator in Tempe, Arizona, and former geology instructor, beat out 200 other Shift4 Payments clients with her space-themed artwork business. Also a pilot, she was a NASA astronaut finalist more than a decade ago. Chris Sembroski, 42, a data engineer and former Air Force missileman from Everett, Washington, entered an open lottery by donating to St. Jude. He didn’t win, but a friend from his college days did and gave him the slot.

TRAINING LIKE ASTRONAUTS

It’s been a whirlwind since all four came together in March. They hiked up Washington’s Mount Rainier in the snow, sampled brief bursts of weightlessness aboard modified aircraft and took

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