Elon Musk's SpaceX announced on Monday that it would fly a crew of private citizens into orbit around Earth, by the end of the year in a multiday mission designed to raise money for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.
Last year the company flew two NASA astronauts as well as an astronaut from Japan to the International Space Station. It also plans to fly a crew of four - all private citizens - to the International Space Station early next year.
This flight is significant for privatisation of spaceflight as it crushes government's long-held monopoly over human spaceflight.
SpaceX's flight will be funded by Jared Issacman, founder and chief executive of Shift4 Payments. Issacman, an accomplished pilot who flies commercial and military aircraft would command the mission and is donating two seats to St Jude.
One seat will go to a health-care worker at the hospital, while the other would be raffled off in an attempt to raise $200 million for St Jude.
The flight will leave from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, but NASA, the US government space agency, is not directly involved in planning the trip.
"NASA has been briefed on this and has been supportive," Musk said.
The mission could last between two and four days, but Musk said the flight parameters were not yet defined.
The three participants on that flight, all wealthy business executives, are paying $55 million for the flight, training and costs associated with staying aboard the space station for up to eight days.
The fourth occupant would be chosen through a competition starting this month among users of Issacson's platform. The company plans to air an ad during Sunday's Super Bowl to raise awareness about the mission and the opportunity to fly on it.
Isaacson said that contestants would make a video about their business and why they should be sent to space, and that the winner would be announced by an independent panel of judges.
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