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Sight Magazine – Essay: SpaceX Inspiration4 mission sent four people with minimal training into orbit – and brought space tourism closer to reality

By on September 17, 2021 0

Just after 8 p.m. EST on September 15, 2021, the next batch of space tourists took off aboard a SpaceX rocket. Organized and financed by an entrepreneur Jared isaacman, the Mission Inspiration4 promotes itself as “the first fully civilian mission in orbit” and represents a new type of space tourism.

The four crew members aren’t the first space tourists this year. Over the past few months, the world has seen billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos launch, along with a lucky few, into space in short suborbital travel.

The four Inspiration4 crew members are medical assistant, data engineer, geoscientist and billionaire Jared Isaacman, left. PHOTO: Inspiration4 / John Kraus via Flickr (licensed CC BY-NC-ND)

While there are similarities between these launches and Inspiration4 – the mission is paid for by a billionaire and uses a rocket built by another, Elon Musk – the differences are notable. From my point of view as space policy expert, the mission emphasis on public participation and the fact that Inspiration4 has put ordinary people into orbit where they will stay for three days makes it a milestone in space tourism.

Why Inspiration4 is different
The biggest difference between Inspiration4 and flights taken earlier this year is the destination.

“While there are similarities between these launches and Inspiration4 – the mission is paid for by a billionaire and uses a rocket built by another, Elon Musk – the differences are notable. From my perspective as a political expert space, the mission’s focus on public engagement, and the fact that Inspiration4 put ordinary people into orbit where they will stay for three days make it a milestone in space tourism. ”

Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have taken – and in the future will take – their passengers on suborbital launches. Their vehicles only climb high enough to reach the beginning of space before returning to the ground a few minutes later. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and the crew’s Dragon vehicle, however, are much more powerful and took Inspiration4’s crew to orbit, where they will circle Earth for three days.

The four-person crew is quite different from other launches as well. Led by Isaacman, the mission includes a somewhat diverse group of people. A crew member, Sian Proctor, won a contest among users of Isaacman’s online payment company. Another unique aspect of the mission is that one of its goals is to promote and fund St Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As such, Isaacman chose Hayley Arceneaux, medical assistant in St Jude and childhood cancer survivor, to participate in the launch. The last member, Christophe Sembroski, won his seat when his friend was chosen in a charity raffle for St Jude and offered his seat to Sembroski.

Because none of the four participants had formal astronaut training, the flight was called the first fully civilian space mission. While both the rocket and the crew capsule are fully automated – no one on board needed to control part of the launch or landing – the four members still had to undergo much more training than the people. on suborbital flights. In less than six months, the crew members suffered hours of simulator training and lessons in how to fly a jet plane and spent time in a centrifuge to prepare them for the G-forces of the launch.



Social awareness was also an important aspect of the mission. As the flights of Bezos and Branson began criticism of billionaire playboys in space, Inspiration4 tried – with mixed results – make space tourism more accessible. The crew recently appeared on the cover of TIME magazine and is the subject of a Netflix Documentary.

There have also been other fundraising events for St Jude including a four mile virtual race and the planned beer hop auction who will be transported on mission.

The future of space tourism?
Sending a crew of amateur astronauts into orbit is an important step in the development of space tourism. However, despite the more inclusive nature of the mission, there are still serious hurdles to overcome before ordinary people can get to space.

On the one hand, the cost remains quite high. Although three of the four are not rich, Isaacman is a billionaire and paid around $ 200 million to finance the trip. The need to train for a mission like this also means that potential passengers need to be able to devote a lot of time to preparation – time that many regular people don’t have.

Ultimately, space remains a dangerous place, and there will never be a way to completely eliminate the danger of launching people – whether untrained civilians or seasoned professional astronauts – into space.

Despite these limitations, orbital space tourism is coming. For SpaceX, Inspiration4 is an important proof of concept that has demonstrated the safety and reliability of their autonomous rocket and capsule systems. Indeed, SpaceX has several tourist missions planned in the coming months, although the company does not focus on space tourism. Some will even include stops at the International Space Station.

Even though space remains out of reach for most of Earth’s inhabitants, Inspiration4 is an example of how the efforts of billionaire space barons to include more people in their travels can make for an otherwise exclusive activity. wider public appeal.

The conversation

Wendy Whitman Cobb is professor of strategy and security studies at the US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies. This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.


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