On February 7, millions of viewers around the country were watching what would be a lopsided 31-9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs. Amid a commercial break to the action in the first quarter, those tuned into the affair witnessed a 30-second close-up shot of a SpaceX suit to Celeste singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” At the conclusion of the commercial came the opportunity that space enthusiasts had always dreamed of. It gave them the opportunity to travel to space.
On Wednesday, Sept. 15, that flight launched.
Inspiration4 took off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from the historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as the first all-civilian mission into orbit. Not only is this the first all-civilian crew, but the three-day mission will also be shooting to hit an orbit of 357 miles (575 kilometers). This means they will be the only other humans to achieve that distance in recent history other than those working on the Hubble Space Telescope. It also means they can wave at those aboard the International Space Station as they travel 80 miles (129 kilometers) above it.
The flight is commanded by New Jersey billionaire Jared Isaacman, founder and chief executive officer of Shift4 Payments, who purchased the four rides of the Crew Dragon for an undisclosed sum. The 38-year-old accomplished pilot committed over $100 million to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with the initial goal of raising upwards of $200 million for the institute. Isaacman will act as the mission commander.
Isaacman is joined by Sian Proctor, 51, a private pilot and science educator with a master’s degree in geology, who is listed as the mission’s pilot. She had previously been a finalist as a NASA astronaut but didn’t end up getting the job. However, she ended up winning a ride on Inspiration4 via a selection from an online business competition by using the Shift4Shop e-commerce platform to sell space-themed art and clothing (she will also be only the fourth African American woman to ever be in space).
Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old cancer survivor, is a physician’s assistant at St. Jude and acts as the flight’s medical officer. She landed the seat after Isaacman decided he wanted someone aboard who was not only a St. Jude employee, but a cancer survivor as well. Arceneaux is not only the youngest person to ever venture into orbital space, but the first one with a prosthetic. Mission specialist Chris Sembroski is a 41-year-old Lockheed Martin aerospace engineer and Air Force veteran who got the ride from a mass drawing from those who made a donation to the children’s hospital.
The crew will perform research experiments on human health and performance, which will have potential applications for human health on Earth and during future spaceflights. In addition, SpaceX, the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine and investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine will collect environmental and biomedical data along with biological samples from Inspiration4’s four crew members before, during, and after this historic spaceflight.
“The crew of Inspiration4 is eager to use our mission to help make a better future for those who will launch in the years and decades to come,” Isaacman said in August. “In all of human history, fewer than 600 humans have reached space. We are proud that our flight will help influence all those who will travel after us and look forward to seeing how this mission will help shape the beginning of a new era for space exploration.”
SpaceX, TRISH — a virtual institute that finds and funds disruptive science and medical technology in order to reduce health hazards in space explorers — and investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine are aiming to expand access to space medicine research by making all the biomedical data collected during the flight accessible through an open data repository funded and overseen by TRISH which can be easily accessed for research purposes.
Most NASA astronauts typically train two years (or more) to gain their place aboard rides to space. The Inspiration4 crew’s training took only five months, with training beginning in April. Their training involved climbing 10,000 feet up the flank of Mt. Rainier, a simulator at SpaceX’s headquarters located in Hawthorne, Ca., and G-force training on fighter jets, along with rides in the famed “Vomit Comet,” a 727 which is able to give those aboard 25-30 seconds of weightlessness thanks to a rapid 45-degree drop.
“This focused preparation was essential in team development and being ready to execute their role as the first commercial crew to orbit the Earth,” SpaceX wrote.
The team’s Crew Dragon capsule, coined Resilience, isn’t the same ole’ capsule of yesterday. SpaceX has made a few upgrades, most notably removing the docking port for the spacecraft to install a cupola which gives the crew an unobstructed, 360-degree view of the Earth. On top of all the other firsts, that will be the largest window flown into space to date.
The Inspiration4 flight is just the first of what will most likely be the first of many civilians headed to space. It’s fairly certain that this is just the beginning trickle of the floodgates opening as companies and nations envision thousands of people working off the planet without having to become government-back astronauts. In the near future, it will not just be those with the cash who are able to step off the globe.
In 2023, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will be aiming to go beyond (literally) Inspiration4 as he looks to take eight civilian members to the moon in a mission called “dearMoon.” The flight will utilize SpaceX’s Starship to carry 10-12 passengers. Maezawa will narrow the applications down to 20 finalists. Since the initial announcement in March, more than one million people have put their names in the hat.