SpaceX Inspiration4 mission will send 4 civilians with minimal training into orbit
On September 15, 2021, the next batch of space tourists are expected to take off aboard a EspaceX rocket. Organized and funded by entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, the Inspiration4 mission is touted as “the first fully civilian mission in orbit” and represents a new kind of space tourism.
The four crew members won’t be 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 on brief suborbital journeys. 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 space policy expert, the mission’s focus on public participation and the fact that Inspiration4 will send ordinary people into orbit 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.
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 powerful enough to take the Inspiration4 crew to orbit, where they will circle the earth for three days.
The four-person crew is also quite different from other launches. Led by Isaacman, the mission includes a somewhat diverse group of people. Team member Sian Proctor won a competition among people who use 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 selected Hayley Arceneaux, medical assistant at St. Jude and childhood cancer survivor, to participate in the launch. The last member, Christopher Sembroski, won his seat when his friend was chosen in a charity raffle for St. Jude and offered his seat to Sembroski.
Since none of the four participants received formal astronaut training, the flight was referred to as the first “all civilian” space mission. While the rocket and crew capsule are both fully automated – no one on board will need 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 had completed hours of simulator training, jet flying lessons, and spent time in a centrifuge to prepare for the launch’s G-forces.
Social awareness was also an important aspect of the mission. While Bezos and Branson’s flights have drawn criticism of billionaire playboys in space, Inspiration4 has attempted – with mixed results – to make space tourism more accessible. The crew recently appeared on the cover of Time magazine and are the subject of an ongoing Netflix documentary.
There have also been other fundraising events for St. Jude, including a virtual 4 mile run and the planned auction of beer hops that will be transported on the 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 wealthy, Isaacman is a billionaire and paid around $ 200 million to fund 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.
Finally, space remains a dangerous place, and there will never be a way to completely eliminate the danger of throwing people – whether untrained civilians or seasoned professional astronauts – into it. space.
Despite these limitations, orbital space tourism is coming. For SpaceX, Inspiration4 is an important proof of concept that they hope will further demonstrate the safety and reliability of their autonomous rocket and capsule systems. Indeed, SpaceX has several tourism missions planned in the coming months, even if 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.
Written by Wendy Whitman Cobb, Professor of Strategy and Security Studies, US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies.
This article first appeared in The Conversation.