HUNTSVILLE, Alabama (AP) – The past, present and likely future of US space travel met in Alabama on Thursday when the first private astronauts discussed their privately funded mission with students at US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville.
“This is truly the first time that astronauts have been on a space flight that were not sent there by a superpower,” Jared Issacman said of his crew’s next mission during a visit with students from the Aviation Challenge program of the space center. The benchmark was for America, the Soviet Union / Russia, and China.
Issacman is a billionaire businessman, jet pilot and Aviation Challenge alumnus. It is also the man who will pilot the next mission called Inspiration4. Its completely private crew embarks on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in September for a three-day flight in a SpaceX Dragon capsule.
Issacman’s crew includes Chris Sembroski, a Lockheed Martin engineer, amateur astronomer and former Space Camp advisor; Hayley Arseneaux, cancer survivor and medical assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; and geoscientist Dr. Sian Proctor. The launch is also a fundraiser for St. Jude which seeks to raise $ 200 million for the Memphis Childhood Cancer Research Hospital.
“I’m really excited for all of you,” Sembroski told the Aviation Challenge students, “because we are entering the most exciting time for space exploration in decades with all the missions that are announced.”
“We have to get it right,” Issacman agreed of his crew’s mission, “because if we do it, it ensures that the schedule of all the interesting missions to follow can keep track and be successful.”
“The name of this flight is why this place exists and is the mission we both share,” Kimberly Robinson, Executive Director and CEO of US Space & Rocket Center, said in introducing the crew. “Inspiring the spirit of discovery and changing the world through the power and passion of space exploration.”
The crew answered questions, including one from a 17-year-old who just received her associate’s degree from a community college. “I originally wanted to be a pilot,” she said, “so what would be some inspiring thoughts you could pass on to us for the future.”
“. “I’m a teacher at a community college so it’s fantastic. It was my dream to get my pilot’s license when I was a kid, but it was a dream that I only realized at the age 35. “
Proctor said she dreamed of being a military aviator, a space shuttle commander, “or something. Those dreams sort of escaped but then came back into my life. And now I’m in my fifties and I go to space.
“What I like to say is don’t give up on your dreams,” Proctor said. “Keep chasing them and stay passionate. Life will take you in different directions. But if you keep moving forward amazing things will open up. Our world is changing rapidly and we need you to be a part of it.”
After their remarks and Q&A with the students, the Inspiration4 crew visited the US Space & Rocket Center, which is resuming operations after a pandemic year that temporarily closed its world-famous Space Camp and rocket museum. The center is also the official visitor center for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.