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Why SpaceX’s Private Inspiration 4 mission to Earth orbit is so important




Butterflies come out before the rocket is launched, but on Wednesday night (September 15th), the flapping is especially intense.

At that time, SpaceX’s Private Inspiration 4 mission will be launched and four astronauts will be in orbit for three days. Given the inherent dangers of space flight, crew missions are particularly disturbing, but they have an extra white knuckle layer.

First, Inspiration 4, which aims to raise $ 200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, is doing something new. This is the first ever all-civil mission to Earth orbit. Non-professional astronauts have previously orbited our planet on the NASA Space Shuttle, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the Russian Mir space station, and the International Space Station (ISS). In fact, NASA’s current chief, Bill Nelson, is one of the people flying on the STS-61-C mission at Space Shuttle Columbia in January 1986, a US House of Representatives.

Live Update: SpaceX Inspiration 4 Private All-Private Orbit Mission Related: Inspiration 4: When to Watch, What to Know

But all of those amateurs, after surviving a rigorous selection process, with professional NASA astronauts or Russian astronauts trained for spaceflight as a regular part of their work. I traveled. Inspiration 4 does not have such a guardrail.

This is not the cause of the alarm. The Inspiration 4 crew will fly in the SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule, a highly automated spacecraft that has demonstrated its capabilities in multiple crew missions to the NASA ISS. Indeed, the vehicle, known as Resilience, scheduled to be launched on Wednesday, participated in SpaceX’s six-month crew 1 spacecraft orbit laboratory mission.

Inspiration 4 is less complex than Crew 1 and zooms solo around the Earth without an ISS rendezvous (although resilience will fly significantly higher than the orbiting lab in the next mission). Inspiration 4 astronauts have also been familiar with the Crew Dragon and its systems and have undergone extensive training to prepare for a variety of harsh space flights for six months from the March selection.

Related: Meet 4 civilian Inspiration 4 astronauts SpaceX in orbit

The Inspiration4 crew is posing against the backdrop of the Saturn V rocket at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. From right to left: Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux. (Image credit: provided by John Kraus / Netflix)

In addition, Inspiration 4 commander Jared Isaacman is a high-tech billionaire who paid for the flight and knows how to deal with dangerous situations at high speed. He is an experienced pilot and has participated in numerous air shows with the Black Diamond Jet Team. He donated three other seats for the flight (with Earth scientist Sian Proctor as pilot, Dr. St. Jude’s assistant Hayley Arceneaux as pilot, and data engineer Chris Semproski as mission specialist). ..

Still, the novelty element of Inspiration 4 raises the level of anxiety, at least for me. And so is the importance of missions. This could help pave the way for commercial space flight.

Space travelers have previously embarked on Earth orbit. For example, between 2001 and 2009, on a trip hosted by Virginia Company Space Adventures, seven different paying customers traveled to the ISS on the Soyuz spacecraft. More such missions are also offshore. A Russian film crew will be launched next month for Soyuz’s orbital lab, with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and video producer Yozo Hirano on a similar journey in December. (Maezawa and Hirano fly via Space Adventures, but the movie crew does not.)

However, as mentioned above, all of these previous flights included at least one professional astronaut. The Soyuz mission is scheduled to begin later this year. Therefore, Inspiration4 may lay the foundation for more tourist flights in the future. We are also bringing SpaceX to the space travel business. This is an important development given the company’s considerable influence, capabilities and achievements.

Related: SpaceX Private All Private Inspiration 4 Missions in Photo

SpaceX will become an increasingly big player in this area over the next few years if everything goes according to plan. For example, Houston-based company Axiom Space has booked four Crew Dragon trips to the ISS. The first trip will be launched in January 2022.

These missions carry all private crews expected to consist of three paying customers and one veteran astronaut hired by Axiom. The commanders of the first two axiom missions are Michael Michael Lopez Alegria and Peggy Whitson, both former NASA astronauts. (Witson spent a total of 665 days in space, more than any other American or any other woman.)

Axiom also plans to launch a private module on the ISS and eventually operate its own space station in low earth orbit (LEO). Such a commercial outpost may be needed to maintain the US footprint in the LEO whenever it can occur after the ISS retires. (The ISS partner agency has agreed to continue operating the station until December 2024, but NASA has allowed it to fly until the end of 2028 from a technical point of view, and will be in the air longer than that. May stay.)

Therefore, Inspiration4 could help humanity open up an exciting and dynamic future in Earth’s orbit in the near future. Orbital space travel is arguably the only state to be very wealthy for the foreseeable future, but commercial activity under this regime has, for example, through pioneering pharmaceutical research on private space stations. It can also benefit other people. Manufacture of tricky or delicate materials under microgravity.

I don’t know what our current moment will lead to. Space fans are notorious dreamers, and reality has repeatedly hit our oversized ambitions for years. However, Inspiration4 is a new thing that can help pave the way for the very big things in the future, and it’s worth marking and celebrating that potential.

By the way, if SpaceX’s Starship Deep Space Transportation System starts working as planned, the future of our manned spaceflight could be really exciting, but that’s another idea …

Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018, illustrated by Karl Tate), a book on the quest for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @ michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @ Spacedotcom or Facebook.




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