The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Inspiration4 crew being launched in Cape Canaveral, Florida. AFP
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying four space tourists blasted off on Wednesday night from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida for the first mission to orbit the globe with an all-civilian crew.
It was the first time a spacecraft circled Earth with an all-amateur crew and no professional astronauts as SpaceX’s first private flight has streaked into orbit with two contest winners, a healthcare worker and their rich sponsor.
A huge fireball illuminated the sky as the rocket's nine engines began to pull away from Earth at 8:02pm (0002 GMT Thursday).
The Inspiration 4 civilian crew aboard a Crew Dragon capsule rocket takes off in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Reuters
The Dragon capsule’s two men and two women are looking to spend three days going round and round the planet from an unusually high orbit – 100 miles (160 kilometers) higher than the International Space Station — before splashing down off the Florida coast this weekend.
It’s SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s first entry in the competition for space tourism dollars.
Isaacman is the third billionaire to launch this summer, following the brief space-skimming flights by Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos in July. Only 38, Isaacman made his fortune from a payment-processing company he started in his teens.
This image from video provided by SpaceX shows passengers aboard SpaceX in Cape Canaveral, Florida. AP
Around 12 minutes later, the Dragon capsule separated from the rocket's send stage as the crew entered orbit, while the re-usable first stage made its way back to Earth for a vertical landing on a sea barge.
"A few have gone before and many are about to follow," said Jared Isaacman, the 38-year-old billionaire who chartered the flight.
The spaceship's trajectory will take it to an altitude of 357 miles (575 kilometres), which is deeper into space than the International Space Station (ISS).
Chris Sembroski (left), Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman and Hayley Arceneaux pose in Cape Canaveral. Reuters
After spending three days spinning around planet Earth, the four-person crew, all Americans, will splash down off the Florida coast.
"The #Inspiration4 launch reminds us of what can be accomplished when we partner with private industry!" tweeted Nasa administrator Bill Nelson ahead of the launch.
NASA's commercial crew programme was founded in 2011.
As part of an astro-tourist team poised to make history the four passengers are supposed to embody the opening-up of space to everyone, giving the mission its name: Inspiration4.
The weather seems cooperative and the passengers are raring to go: SpaceX's first space tourists were a picture of calm on Tuesday as they prepared to blast off on a three-day mission to orbit the Earth.
High-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX company launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida on Thursday on a mission to carry the first batch of five dozen small satellites into low-Earth orbit
The move comes to ensure rights protection of both parties in a balanced manner, promote the growth and stability of the labor market, and enhance the economic competitiveness of the UAE.
Keith Bennett was one of five victims of 1960s child serial killers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, who buried all but one of their victims on bleak moorland near the northwestern city of Manchester.
The 11.15-carat Williamson Pink Star diamond, auctioned by Sotheby’s Hong Kong, sold for $392 million Hong Kong dollars ($49.9 million). It was originally estimated at $21 million.