Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have already traveled to and from the edge of space this year, but last week the term “amateur astronaut” officially took on new meaning. Four “everyday people” returned on Saturday from a three-day mission in Earth orbit, safe and sound.
The crew consisted of a medical assistant, a businessman, a data engineer and a geology professor. That’s right. There were no professional astronauts aboard the SpaceX spacecraft, which hovered 357 miles (575 kilometers) above our planet – higher than the International Space Station.
And while the sight of civilians was magnificent, the jaw-dropping photos they took from their 360-degree dome could represent more than a future filled with space travel. They capture four people who symbolize this vision in a way that Bezos and Branson… well, can’t.
“There is more than one road to space, there is more than one road to exploration – and one of those roads is for you,” former NASA astronaut Cady Coleman tells me. on Zoom, highlighting the message that the Inspiration4 mission gives off.
Jared Isaacman, the billionaire who funded the mission, deliberately chose three other civilian astronauts who each represent something powerful.
Military medic Hayley Arceneaux is a cancer survivor and, at 29, the youngest American to visit space. Engineer Christopher Sembroski is a veteran of the US Air Force, and Sian Proctor, a professor at a community college in Tempe, Ariz., Is the fourth African-American woman to live among the stars.
“It kills me to say she’s the fourth,” said Coleman, who has traveled to the ISS three times in his career. “The fact that that number could be four, not 40 or 400.”
Thankfully, SpaceX launched just in time for the release of a new documentary starring Coleman, The Wonderful: Stories from the Space Station. It is available to watch on streaming services including Amazon Prime Video and iTunes.
The Pioneering Mission, the intimate film, and Coleman herself offer a special reminder.
Space belongs to all of us.
‘Maybe it could be me ‘
Dressed in her iconic blue NASA uniform and sitting on a couch in front of a pretty beige painting, Coleman is brimming with empathy, thoughtfulness and nostalgia as she talks about her own experience as an astronaut and the current situation of space exploration.
The 60-year-old veteran astronaut vividly remembers the first time it even occurred to him that she could visit space.
It was when Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, came to speak at her college, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ride’s impact was so strong that she might as well have spoken directly to Coleman.
“I remember the auditorium seat I was sitting in,” Coleman said. “But most of all, I remember what it was like to watch her, to listen to her talk, and to realize that it was important that she be a scientist, well trained, and who seemed to be continually curious.
“I was just like, ‘Wow, maybe it could be me.'”
Sure enough, Coleman graduated in chemistry from MIT, joined the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps, and earned a doctorate. in Polymer Science and Engineering from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
In 1992, NASA selected her to join the agency.
Notably, one of her three missions to the ISS required her to live there for six months, longer than all of Ride’s missions combined.
Today, universal interest in space travel is intensifying alongside the sudden sequence of non-traditional astronauts launching into orbit. But we could stop to examine who is offering the person sitting in Coleman’s auditorium seat the same “aha” moment that Ride delivered.
While Bezos and Branson have demonstrated that private organizations can, in fact, get to space, they’re both billionaires, they’re both men, and neither is a minority.
Inspiration4 crew members tell a different story.
“When you think of the billions of people here on Earth, each of them might find something that makes them think, ‘I see myself in them – just these four,'” said Coleman.
Space exploration and equal representation
“Whether a young girl or a minority can see themselves in space is really important to me,” said Coleman, speaking as a woman who says she underwent a scrutiny of herself during her training. to become an astronaut. A common question was, “Did you even mind leaving your family on Earth?” “
“Of course I did,” she said. “And at the same time, it’s actually a huge disservice to our astronauts who care as well.”
Laughing affectionately at the way her son sometimes called her while she was training in Russia and asked age-old questions such as, “Mum, my black jeans, where are they?” Coleman points out that being a mother did not encompass all of her identity, unlike what the public subtly fed on female astronauts.
In the 2000s, for example, she was asked to check out a movie on the ISS, a movie with a cast list that lacked women or minorities.
“For me it was like an emergency,” Coleman said. “In the year 2000 we’re going to have a movie about what it’s like to live in space and in the cast, there’s not a single person who isn’t white.”
“What about the 9-year-old who’s sitting at home watching this, thinking how cool it is – but inside there’s a little message saying, ‘By the way , it’s probably not you, ”she remarked. In 2013, on the other hand, Coleman coached Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock to help her play the lead role of an astronaut in Alfonso Cuarón’s sci-fi film Gravity.
Or, take space suit sizes. At one point, Coleman explained, NASA did not have enough resources to manufacture all sizes, so they eliminated the small and very large sizes. Later, they restocked extra large suits – but not small ones. “He left out, in fact, eight women in their twenties who, on paper, wouldn’t fit in that spacesuit,” Coleman said. She was one of them.
The characteristic bulky white suits are necessary to keep the astronauts alive outside the ISS, which means these women have been preemptively excluded from the pool of candidates for the spacewalk.
Calling The Wonderful an exquisite film due to its inclusion of international astronauts, male and female, Coleman suggests that Inspiration4 also delves into vital representations of diversity.
A next step for space travel, she says, is to “find a way to help the people who design and build spacesuits for the future understand that people like me bring a lot to space walking. space”.
I interpreted his use of space suits in the broadest and most metaphorical way.
Because commercial space travel has only just begun, humanity has the opportunity to achieve its shades of equal representation.
Today, Arceneaux, back from space, is the first person in history to go there with a prosthesis. During training, she texted her orthopedic surgeon to tell him that it turns out that the prosthesis of her femur can withstand extreme force, as evidenced by the fact that she is flying a fighter plane.
Earth is our vessel. Space is our home
In April 2019, Coleman gave a Ted Talk: “What It’s Like Living on the International Space Station.” It ended with the sentence: “Earth is our ship. Space is our home.”
I get chills every time I think about it.
As humans, we tend to reject the idea of space. It’s hard to understand a place that is measured on scales of billions and billions of billions and lives by physics that we restrict to our textbooks – especially without asking some existential questions.
But like it or not, space is our home.
Married to artist Josh Simpson, who makes glass art inspired by space and planets, Coleman smiles as he remembers that while she was in space, she wished he was there. to look at the Earth through its lens. That way he could recreate it.
“When I look at my camera, I’m like ‘Wow, it just doesn’t capture what it feels like to see this sunset,'” she said. “It’s kind of the same when you look at Earth… on that curved edge. There are so many colors of blue – I can’t describe it.”
Watched dozens of YouTube videos, trying to figure out What the difference is. What does the Earth really look like seen from space without any particles blocking our vision, in a vacuum and against a background of nothingness?
I must know.
But my inability to truly understand – and the difficulty for astronauts to explain the greatness of Earth from above – highlights another kind of representation that space travel could benefit from: the diversity of thought. Artists, for example, have perspectives that scientists lack.
“Something critical to our planet – especially right now – is empowering problem solvers of the future,” Coleman said.
Inspiration4 is on the right track for that too, in a way. Isaacman devoted much of the mission’s publicity to raising funds for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where Arceneaux was a patient and now works as a medical assistant.
“It’s not just a space mission. It’s a land mission,” Coleman said. “It’s a charitable mission, it’s a mission for children, and it’s a mission for more people to go to space.”
“More ripples will occur from the events they triggered.”