Categories
GeekWire

Engineer and teacher join billionaire’s space crew

The crew is set for a philanthropic space flight that’s being funded by a tech billionaire — and Chris Sembroski, a Lockheed Martin engineer from Everett, Wash., can thank a college buddy for being part of it.

Sembroski will take part in the Inspiration4 space adventure organized by Shift4 Payments CEO Jared Isaacman, by virtue of an online sweepstakes that attracted nearly 72,000 entries and raised millions of dollars for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Sembroski, Isaacman and two crewmates are due to ride into orbit later this year in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.

Although Sembroski bought tickets for the raffle, he didn’t actually win it: Instead, a friend from his college days at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University was chosen, according to The New York Times. The friend, who is remaining anonymous, decided not to go to space — and donated the ticket to Sembroski, a dedicated space fan.

Sembroski said he was stunned to learn he’d be taking his friend’s place. “It was this moment of, ‘Oh, I’m going to space? You picked me? Wow. Cool.’ I mean, it was a moment of shock,” he said today during a news briefing at SpaceX’s Florida facility.

Categories
Cosmic Space

Cancer survivor joins private space mission

The second member of a four-person crew for what’s likely to be the first privately funded orbital space tour has been identified: She’s Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old physician assistant who works at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. — and was successfully treated for bone cancer at St. Jude almost two decades ago.

Arceneaux was invited to be part of the Inspiration4 mission weeks ago by its commander and principal funder, Shift4 Payments CEO and founder Jared Isaacman — but her identity was kept secret until today.

“It’s an incredible honor to join the Inspiration4 crew. This seat represents the hope that St. Jude gave me — and continues to give families from around the world, who, like me, find hope when they walk through the doors of St. Jude,” Arceneaux said in a news release.

“When I was just 10 years old, St. Jude gave me the opportunity to grow up. Now I am fulfilling my dreams of working at the research hospital and traveling around the world,” she said.

Arceneaux told NBC News that she and Isaacman both tried on spacesuits last weekend. “That’s what really made it real,” she said.

If the project sticks to its schedule, Isaacman, Arceneaux and two more crewmates will be sent into orbit in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule late this year. Arceneaux would become the world’s youngest spaceflier — displacing Sally Ride, who was 32 when she became NASA’s first female astronaut in 1983. That’s assuming that one of the crew members yet to be named isn’t even younger.

One crew member is to be selected in a sweepstakes that will benefit St. Jude, while the fourth flier will be an entrepreneur who’ll be selected by a panel of judges on the basis of how he or she uses the Shift4Shop e-commerce platform. The deadline for both contests is Feb. 28. (Check the Inspiration4 website for the full set of rules.)

Categories
GeekWire

Will space become Jeff Bezos’ final frontier?

What will Amazon without Jeff Bezos as CEO look like? It could look a lot like Bezos’ biggest personal passion project — Blue Origin, which is working to send people and payloads on space trips ranging from suborbital hops to the moon and beyond.

There’s already speculation that Bezos’ decision to step back from the CEO role and serve as Amazon’s executive chairman will free him up to devote more time to Blue Origin. After all, he’s basically come around to admitting that he founded Amazon in part to earn the billions he’d need for his own space effort.

But Bezos has picked up a lot of other passions since his days in Princeton, when he headed the local chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

That’s reflected in the email he sent to Amazon employees, announcing a tectonic shift for the world’s richest individual (at least as of today … sorry, Elon Musk).

“As Exec Chair I will stay engaged in important Amazon initiatives but also have the time and energy I need to focus on the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and my other passions,” Bezos wrote. “I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring. I’m super passionate about the impact I think these organizations can have.”

The order in which Bezos lays out his list may well reflect the priority of his passions, especially considering that he’s a seasoned list-maker.

Categories
GeekWire

Tech billionaire buys a SpaceX flight to orbit

A billionaire CEO who also happens to be a trained jet pilot is buying a days-long flight to orbit aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft — and he’s setting aside the three other seats for a health care worker, a sweepstakes prize winner and the top tech contestant in a “Shark Tank”-style competition.

That means you, too, could fly to space if you’re lucky, or a techie.

Jared Isaacman, the 37-year-old founder and CEO of Pennsylvania-based Shift4 Payments, will command the Inspiration4 mission, which is due for launch as early as this year and is currently due to last two to four days.

“If you want to stay up longer, that’s fine, too,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told Isaacman during a teleconference laying out the details.

The detailed flight plan hasn’t yet been set, but Musk made clear that Isaacman will have the final say. “Wherever you want to go, we’ll take you there,” Musk said.

Today’s announcement marks the latest twist for the nascent private spaceflight industry — which also counts Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as a pioneer, by virtue of his role in founding Blue Origin. Bezos’ space venture aims to start putting people on suborbital space rides later this year. Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, is also working toward beginning commercial space operations.

Just last week, Texas-based Axiom Space announced it would be sending a crew on a privately funded mission to the International Space Station next year on a SpaceX Dragon craft. Inspiration4, in contrast, will be a free-flying mission with no space station stopover.

Musk said he expected flights like the one announced today to usher in an era of private-sector orbital spaceflight.

“This is an important milestone toward enabling access to space for everyone — because at first, things are very expensive, and it’s only through missions like this that we’re able to bring the cost down over time and make space accessible to all,” he said.

Categories
GeekWire

Allen Family Foundation donates to COVID-19 causes

WA Food Fund at work
The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation donated $1 million to the WA Food Fund, a statewide food relief program. (WA Food Fund / Philanthropy Northwest Photo)

The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation announced two contributions to support people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in Washington state, adding up to $2.2 million.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Seattle cancer centers get $500K to fight COVID-19

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center are headquartered in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. (Fred Hutch Photo)

Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and its clinical-care partner, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, are receiving a $500,000 grant from Bank of America to promote COVID-19 testing efforts as well as measures to protect against the pandemic.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

UW Medicine kicks off $50M COVID-19 campaign

COVID-19 testing
A nurse prepares to screen a patient for coronavirus at a drive-through testing station at UW Medical Center – Northwest. (UW Medicine Photo / Randy Carnell)

The CEOs of Amazon and Microsoft are among thousands of people contributing to cover the $50 million in private support that the University of Washington School of Medicine expects to need to cope with the coronavirus outbreak.

So far, more than $20 million in contributions to the UW Medicine Emergency Response Fund have come in from about 3,400 donors, UW Medicine said today.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

MacKenzie Bezos sheds $400M in Amazon stock

MacKenzie Bezos
MacKenzie Bezos will donate more than half of her fortune to charity. (Photo via Bystander Revolution)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos, has divested herself of about $400 million worth of the Amazon stock she received as part of the couple’s divorce settlement — potentially providing the wherewithal for the charitable activities she’s planning.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Gates Ag One to help farmers cope with climate

Farm in Africa
Gates Ag One will focus on accelerating agricultural innovation for smallholder farmers, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. (Gates Foundation Photo)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is starting up a new nonprofit group that will focus on providing small-scale farmers in developing countries with the tools and innovations they’ll need to deal with the effects of climate change.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Amazon begins hurricane relief airlifts to Bahamas

Amazon says it’s completed the first of two relief flights to the Bahamas, delivering tons of supplies earmarked for the victims of Hurricane Dorian.

The first Amazon Air cargo plane arrived in Nassau on Sept. 16 with about 19,300 items on board, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reported in a tweet. The cargo weight amounted to 72,728 pounds.

“Huge thanks to the teams across Amazon who made this happen,” Bezos wrote.

Amazon and its customers have donated cash and more than 300,000 relief items, with a combined worth of $1 million, to Hurricane Dorian relief efforts in the Bahamas and the United States, the company said today in a posting to its Day One blog. Donated items include personal hygiene products, food, water, clothing, tarps, generators and solar lanterns.

Get the full story on GeekWire.