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Photo Illustration: Annelise Capossela. Photos: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Businessman Jared Isaacman is putting his life in SpaceX's hands.

The big picture: Isaacman is leading the first all-civilian mission to space on a chartered flight with SpaceX expected to fly before the end of the year.

  • The new mission — called Inspiration4 — effectively ushers in a new age of private spaceflight that goes beyond government customers and missions.
  • "I'm not nervous at all," Isaacman told me. "I'm immensely confident in SpaceX's technology. I think they're true pioneers, visionaries."

What's happening: Isaacman is giving away one seat on the Crew Dragon to someone who donates to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and another seat to the winner of a contest for entrepreneurs.

  • The fourth seat has been given to a yet-to-be-named St. Jude ambassador who was once treated by the hospital and is now a medical worker.
  • So far, the raffle has generated more than $8 million for the hospital, according to the Inspiration4 website.
  • The mission also aired an ad during the Super Bowl this weekend.

Behind the scenes: This mission came together in just about two months, Isaacman said, adding that he always knew it wouldn't just be "a couple buddies going up in space together," instead opting for a more impactful message.

  • And it's going to be a sprint to launch before the end of the year.
  • Once the final crewmates are announced in about 20 days, they will embark on a rigorous training schedule to get everyone up to speed on what it will take to launch to space and return safely home, even as a passenger.
  • "I'm certainly not asking people who are fortunate enough to get selected as part of this process to give up their day jobs. But we might be asking for a little bit of flexibility from their employers ... to give us a day here or there, but what we're trying to do is a lot of three- and four-day weekends," Isaacman said of the training.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Feb 9, 2021 - Science

The new Mars club

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The newest missions to Mars are about life on Earth as much as they're about science on the Red Planet.

Why it matters: The United Arab Emirates and China, which each have missions arriving at Mars this week, have tied geopolitical and national ambitions to their Martian endeavors.

9 mins ago - World

COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming

Recreated from Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals

South Africa alerted the world to the Omicron variant. Now data out of South Africa may serve as a warning of what we're facing.

Driving the news: South Africa recorded 11,535 new cases Thursday with 22.4% of tests coming back positive — up from an average of about 300 new cases, with a 2% test positivity rate 10 days earlier. The country's top public health officials expect that exponential rise to continue as Omicron rapidly becomes the dominant variant.

BuzzFeed to go public, after shareholders approve SPAC deal

Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed is set to become publicly traded on Monday, after shareholders of a SPAC called 890 Fifth Avenue Partners voted to approve a previously-announced merger.

Yes, but: The vast majority of the money the SPAC raised in January was yanked, a signal that investors aren't very optimistic about BuzzFeed's future prospects.