The first civilians to venture off Earth alone, without the presence of professional astronauts, are about to take off on a rocket from billionaire Elon Musk’s private SpaceX company. The flight is scheduled for this Wednesday night (15).
The Inspiration4 mission, aboard the Crew Dragon capsule, shouldn’t be that far from home, however, remaining in our planet’s orbit for about three days.
The time doesn’t seem that long, but it’s already much longer than the few minutes that recent space tourism experiences have provided travelers.
If you’re thinking this is another billionaires’ private flight into space, in part, you’re right. Yes, it’s a private flight and there’s a new billionaire taking off on a rocket. This time it’s Jared Isaacman, 38, founder of payments company Shift4 Payments.
But there’s a bit more to this mission than the recent private flights of entrepreneur Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Galactic, and Amazon CEO Jeffrey Bezos, owner of space company Blue Origin.
First, as already said, the question of the crew: the first one composed entirely of civilians — logically, none of them will have the responsibility of piloting the ship. The command is automated, watched by engineers who stay on dry land.
In addition to Isaacman, three other people were chosen to join the flight. Hence, even the name of the mission, Inspiration4. The idea is to have values such as leadership, hope, generosity and prosperity represented in the nave.
The idea of leadership is in charge of Isaacman, who even has experience as a driver. It is he, with his fortune, who pays for the vacancies of his fellow passengers. The amount disbursed was not disclosed.
Hope is associated with Hayley Arceneaux, 29, a medical assistant at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee (USA), who overcame cancer —being treated at the same hospital— when she was 10 years old.
Furthermore, Arceneaux will be the youngest person to reach space and the first to do so with a prosthesis (as a consequence of the bone tumor, a part of the bones in her left leg had to be replaced).
The generosity is associated with Christopher Sembroski, 42. He made a donation to St. Jude Hospital (in all, the mission aims to raise about $200 million for the institution) in a contest sponsored by Isaacman to give away a lucky winner for get on board.
The engineer ended up having no luck. The vacancy didn’t come to him, but to a friend, who, because of Sembroski’s enthusiasm for the subject, decided to redirect the prize.
Finally, prosperity is associated with Sian Proctor, 51, a geologist and entrepreneur who almost became an astronaut for NASA and will now fulfill her dream of going into space. Thus, she will become the fourth black woman to achieve the feat.
Proctor got his place on the ship by winning a contest from Isaacman’s company, in which participants had to use Shift4 Payments software to set up an online store and tweet videos about their dreams related to entrepreneurship and space.
“This first flight is very symbolic. It inaugurates space tourism in orbit, which until now had not been done privately”, says Lucas Fonseca, space entrepreneur.
But, in addition to the 100% civilian crew, the Inspiration4 mission must also make history for technical reasons.
The flights made so far by other billionaires have lasted very little time. “You go up, go up, go up, cross the line that limits space and go down”, summarizes Cássio Barbosa, an astrophysicist at Centro Universitário FEI. “It’s a missile that goes up, the fuel runs out and it goes down,” he jokes.
That’s because the previous commercial missions, carried out in July by Virgin Galactic, Branson’s company, and Blue Origin, from Bezos, were suborbital flights. In this type the speed does not usually exceed 4,000 km/h.
“It’s no fun talking about space in a suborbital flight that lasts a few minutes, just to see the curvature of the Earth and see dark space”, says Barbosa. “You’ll experience zero gravity, but any roller coaster of respect can get the same butterflies in your stomach.”
For an orbital flight, as in the case of the current SpaceX mission, a capsule needs to reach speeds greater than 27,000 km/h. There is, with this, a difference in the size of the necessary rocket, in the risks and in the complexity of the task.
The crew will make a complete turn around the globe every 90 minutes, at a speed of about 22 times that of sound. The orbit around the Earth will be farther than the International Space Station and the Hubble telescope.
According to the FEI specialist, Inspiration4 is unlike anything seen so far in the area of space tourism. “It’s really space flight, in the sense we’re used to.”
The Crew Dragon capsule, which will take the lucky three and the billionaire into space, was originally developed to provide crew transportation services to NASA.
With it, since last year, three missions with crew have been made to the International Space Station. The capsule will be aboard a reusable Falcon 9 rocket.
If Branson and Bezos were the first in space tourism, Musk appears, at least in part, to have surpassed the other billionaires.
“Among these companies that propose to do space tourism, it is by far the most notable flight,” says Fonseca, who recalls that space tourism began in the early 2000s, when a Russian spacecraft took a man to visit the Station. International Space—again, at the cost of millions of dollars.
Only “in part” as a practical matter. Considering that suborbital flights are already for few people on Earth, due to the volume of money moved, orbital missions, such as SpaceX, should have even fewer candidates on the planet, predicts Barbosa.
“It involves a very large mobilization of infrastructure, which takes costs to a much higher level”, says the researcher.
“There is still a queue of payers, paying out of their own pocket, to go,” says Fonseca.
Barbosa says that, after the suborbital and orbital tourist flights, the next step, a big step for the private sector in the next decade, could be the installation of hotels in Earth’s orbit.
“It would be a future use of the Space Station,” he explains. “It would be up to the private initiative to build an inn to stay for a few days.”
How to watch the launch
The flight should start at Cape Canaveral, in Florida (USA), from 9:01 pm (GMT) this Wednesday (15), with a launch window of about five hours.
The mission can be watched live on SpaceX’s YouTube channel and also on Netflix’s space on the video platform.
On sheet, the blog Mensageiro Sideral, by Salvador Nogueira, will cover it live.
More details about the launch can be followed by social networks from SpaceX, the Inspiration4 mission and also from the civilians involved in the flight.
The enterprise of taking civilians into space also gave rise to a documentary series by Netflix. Four episodes are now available on the streaming platform.
In addition to the live stream, therefore, the launch and space adventure will soon be available as new chapters in the service.