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SpaceX sends four amateurs on a private Earth-circling mission

SpaceX sends four amateurs on a private Earth-circling mission

SpaceX has launched the world's first crew of "amateur astronauts" on a three-day private flight around the Earth.

On Wednesday, a billionaire e-commerce executive and three less wealthy private citizens were selected to join from Florida aboard a SpaceX rocket ship and soared into orbit, becoming the first all-civilian crew to orbit the Earth from space.

The quartet of amateur astronauts, led by the American founder and chief executive of financial services firm Shift4 Payments Inc (FOUR.N), Jared Isaacman, lifted off just before sunset from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.

"It blows me away, honestly," the SpaceX director, Benji Reed, said on the eve of launch from Nasa's Kennedy Space Center. "It gives me goosebumps even right now to talk about it."

The passengers will spend three days orbiting Earth at an unusually high altitude of 357 miles (575 kilometres) – 100 miles (160 kilometres) higher than the International Space Station.

Despite the fact that Nasa has no involvement in the process, its executives and astronauts are rooting for the flight, which has been dubbed Inspiration4.

"To me, the more people involved in it, whether private or government, the better," said the Nasa astronaut Shane Kimbrough, who is nearing the end of his six-month space station stay.

In a Twitter message posted shortly before Wednesday's launch, the space agency said: "#Inspiration4 embodies our vision for a future in which private companies can transport cargo and people to low-Earth orbit. More opportunities to fly = more opportunities for science."

Isaacman created Inspiration4 to raise awareness and funds for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, a paediatric cancer centre in Memphis, Tennessee, which is one of his favourite causes.

A retired Nasa astronaut will escort three wealthy businessmen to the space station for a weeklong visit on SpaceX's next private trip, which will take place early next year. In the coming months, the Russians will send an actor, a film director, and a Japanese tycoon to the space station.

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