The SpaceX Inspiration4 mission is expected to launch a new era of human spaceflight, where the frontiers of the cosmos will not just be limited to government-sponsored astronauts. Although that future might still be far, the launch of the Crew Dragon capsule is a breakthrough in space transport.
SpaceX, the American aerospace company founded by businessman Elon Musk, made history on Wednesday night (early morning India time) by launching the Inspiration4 mission with the world’s first all-civilian crew into space. The four amateur astronauts are travelling to an altitude of 357 miles (575 kilometres) above the surface of the Earth, which is much further and deeper into space than the International Space Station (ISS), in the private flight that will encircle the Earth for three days. The event generated great interest across the world since it is expected to pave a new era of human spaceflight for average people, rather than just government-sponsored astronauts.
The SpaceX flight was powered by the Falcon 9 rocket, which took the Crew Dragon capsule carrying the civilians roaring into space. The launch occurred at 8pm eastern time on Wednesday (which translates to around 5:32am IST on Thursday) from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida, where the Apollo 11 mission once took off for the Moon.
The SpaceX Dragon capsule separated from the second stage of a Falcon 9 rocket 12 minutes after liftoff, and the aerospace company informed that the civilian crew had successfully been launched into orbit.
However, it is to be noted that the aforementioned crew is still far from ‘average’, in the true sense of the word. The trip is being sponsored by Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old billionaire and philanthropist with pilot training. He is the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of payment processor Shift4 Payments Inc, and also the mission commander of the spaceflight, having chosen the rest of the crew himself through a competition.
Isaacman is joined in the SpaceX mission by Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old pediatric cancer survivor who works as a physician assistant. She is also the first person to fly to space with a prosthetic device: She lives with a rod implanted in her left leg as part of her treatment for bone cancer.
Chris Sembroski, a US Air Force veteran who now works as an aerospace data engineer for Lockheed Martin in Seattle is also part of the crew.
The other member is Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old geoscientist in Phoenix who was almost selected to become an astronaut for NASA in 2009.
All of these crew members were vetted by SpaceX, which designed the flight and deemed the passengers ready to go. The amateur astronauts were trained for about nine months, when they were taught about the Dragon’s systems, how to intervene during the flight if necessary, and other endeavors such as practicing in a centrifuge to withstand high-gravity forces. They also flew several times in a fleet of former military fighter jets Isaacman owns to become accustomed to G forces.
In addition to serving as a proof-of-concept demonstration flight, the mission will also raise $200 million in charity for childhood cancer research. Beyond the undisclosed sum that Isaacman is paying SpaceX for the flight – reported as $200 million by Time magazine – he has also pledged $100 million to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
Netflix, which was running a live stream of the spaceflight launch today on its YouTube channel, will be putting out a documentary series in collaboration with the Time Magazine on the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission. It is expected to center on the crew’s experience in space and show the video footage detailing their activities; the documentary is set for release on September 30. Hindustan Times