Isn’t space tourism just about billionaires and their toys?

One of the reasons for the successful launch of four civilians into orbit in The inspiration of SpaceX 4 The mission is an important step, because it marks an important moment in the transfer of manned spaceflight to the private sector.

At first glance, the flight appears to be the latest billionaire to send itself into space. Jared Isaacman paid for the flight by writing a check to fellow billionaire Elon Musk, whose company provided the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule. This follows recent thefts of Richard Branson on his Virgin Galactic vehicle and Jeff Bezos‘ on his Blue Origin rocket.

Four private citizens aboard a SpaceX rocket orbiting Earth without the help of trained astronauts

But this flight was different on many levels. First, these two flights just lifted above Earth’s atmosphere for a few minutes before returning to the ground, like a high-flying carousel. The SpaceX flight is a three-day orbital journey at an altitude of 575 km, which is higher than the International Space Station.

More importantly, it’s a demonstration of how a private company can safely send ordinary people into space at a fraction of the cost the US government paid to launch rigorously trained astronauts in its directed space shuttles. by NASA.

Traditionally, the US government has contracted numerous companies across the country to build individual elements of their Apollo space shuttles and moon rockets, which were then assembled in Florida for flight. Although it provides many jobs, it is a cumbersome and expensive way to build and fly rockets.

SpaceX does it all within its own walls and has proven it can build rockets, fly them, and reuse them cheaply. And they can do it reliably. This launch arrived exactly on time. The booster rocket and the crew capsule have already flown into space, and the trip to orbit went without a hitch.

The Dragon capsule is fully self-contained, the equivalent of a self-driving car, so the crew don’t actually pilot it, although they must know how it works in case something goes wrong.

None of the crew had space experience and their training lasted only a few months compared to the years of NASA astronaut training. Of course, their three-day mission is much simpler than spending six months on the space station. But the goal of private human spaceflight is to facilitate safe and (relatively) cheap access to space, whether for wealthy tourists, industrial workers, scientists or NASA astronauts.

Private spaceflight pioneers from the left Sian Proctor, Chris Sembrowski, Jared Isaacman and Hayley Arceneaux (John Kraus/Inspiration4/Associated Press)

In some ways, the government’s shift to private spaceflight resembles the birth of commercial airlines. During World War II, the US government helped companies like Boeing develop large aircraft such as four-engine bombers, and later, at the dawn of the Cold War, fast-jet bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

This technological expertise was later applied to produce long-range passenger aircraft, such as the Boeing 707. Initially, air travel was expensive, but as the industry grew, ticket prices declined and routine air travel became accessible to a larger portion of the population. today.

Of course, an important reason ordinary people can fly with confidence today is that the airline industry is heavily regulated to ensure that flying is the safest way to travel anywhere in the world. It remains to be seen whether the space industry will achieve the levels of reliable, low-cost air travel beyond Earth. At the moment, civilian spaceflight seems to be the domain of billionaires, but the Inspiration4 mission could be a big step in that direction.

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