'Punch it SpaceX!': Four tourists launched into orbit aboard private flight on three-day trip

"And liftoff" - SpaceX's first private flight has blasted off with two contest winners, a health care worker and their rich sponsor.

SpaceX has launched the first all-civilian crew into orbit Wednesday night aboard one of the company's own rocket ships, in the most ambitious leap yet in space tourism.

The four amateur space travellers, who are not professional astronauts, were blasted off into orbit shortly after 8.00pm ET (1.00am BST) from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

They include two contest winners, a health care worker and their rich sponsor.

Space is now no longer the realm of professional astronauts as the night sky was lit up by a rocket from a private company carrying an all-civilian crew, ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers reports

“Punch it, SpaceX!” the flight's billionaire leader, Jared Isaacman, urged moments before liftoff.

Mr Isaacman noted upon reaching orbit that few people have been to space — fewer than 600 over 60 years.

But he added, "Many are about to follow. The door's opening now and it's pretty incredible.”

The mission, called Inspiration4, is expected to last three days and will see the quartet become the first commercial crew to orbit Earth. They will be travelling at 17,500 miles per hour and will orbit the Earth once every 90 minutes.

The crew are aboard Elon Musk's SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft - which is aiming for an orbital altitude of 360 miles (575 km) above Earth - flying higher than the International Space Station or 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 kilometres) while Bezos hit 66 miles up (106 kilometres).

After three days the crew will splash down off the coast of Florida.

The Dragon offers virtually no privacy; only a curtain shields the toilet.

Unlike the space station and Nasa’s old shuttles, there is are no sleeping compartments, or even separate work areas. As for food, they’ll chow down on cold pizza following lift-off. They’re also packing ready-to-eat, astronaut-style fare.

Hayley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski, Jared Isaacman and Sian Proctor float during a zero gravity flight out of Las Vegas. Credit: SpaceX/AP

SpaceX’s first private flight will be led by 38-year-old entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, American founder and chief executive of e-commerce firm Shift4 Payments Inc, who’s bankrolling the entire trip and will be one of the four amateur space travellers aboard the flight.

He said: “This is the first step toward a world where everyday people can go and venture among the stars.”

Through the spaceflight, Mr Isaacman wants to raise awareness and support for one of his favourite causes, St Jude Children's Research Hospital, a leading paediatric cancer centre in Memphis, Tennessee.

Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman and Hayley Arceneaux sit in the Dragon capsule at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Credit: SpaceX/AP

Who are the passengers?

Alongside Mr Isaacman, one of the four capsule seats was offered to St Jude, which offered it to physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux, a former patient who now works at the 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 teacher 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.