The world’s first crew of “amateur astronauts” are about to take off on a mission that will transport them to orbit before bringing them back to Earth this weekend.
The four civilians, who have completed an astronaut training course in recent months, are to be launched on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday at 8:02 p.m. local time (1:02 UK time Thursday ).
Barring any glitches, the two men and two women of the Inspiration4 mission should orbit the planet for three or four days, performing experiments and admiring the view through a glass dome installed on their Dragon capsule, before diving in. in the Atlantic Ocean.
Presented as “the world’s first fully civilian mission in orbitThe launch is the latest to promote the virtues of space tourism and follows the July suborbital flights of Sir Richard Branson on the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo – which has since been grounded for deviating – and Jeff Bezos on the Blue Origin New Shepard rocket.
While the Inspiration4 crew took flight lessons, spin sessions to experience launch G-forces, and hours of training in SpaceX’s capsule simulator, the mission will be almost fully automated. The capsule is expected to orbit the Earth at an altitude of 360 miles (575 km), or about 93 miles above the International Space Station.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX announced in February that billionaire businessman Jared Isaacman, who has logged thousands of hours on various planes, had chartered the Falcon 9 rocket for himself and three members of the public. He donated two seats to St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and chose Hayley Arceneaux, a former cancer patient at the hospital, and now employed there, to join him. At 29, Arceneaux is on the way to becoming the youngest American in orbit.
Also on the mission are Dr. Sian Proctor, a geologist and science communicator who reached the final round of the 2009 NASA astronaut selection process, and Chris Sembroski, a US Air Force veteran and aerospace engineer with Lockheed Martin, who was offered the seat by a friend who won it in a St Jude charity raffle.
While the Inspiration4 mission is yet another billionaire-funded mission, it marks a milestone in space tourism: never before has an all-amateur crew been put into orbit. “This will be the first time that a global superpower has not sent people into orbital space,” Isaacman said. “When this mission is over, people will look at it and say, ‘It was the first time ordinary people could go to space. “
Louis Brennan, professor of business studies at Trinity Business School in Dublin, said SpaceX was “ahead of the pack” of private sector companies interested in space. He compared today’s space tourism to the days before budget airlines created a mass market for air travel. “Likewise, space tourism risks remaining the prerogative of the upper classes in the short and medium term, because the cost is prohibitive for people of average means,” he said. “In the longer term, as the costs involved decrease, it is likely to become a mass market activity. However, for now and in the short to medium term, it will be a niche market.
As the industry moves beyond national space agency contracts to tourism, avoiding accidents and disasters will be more crucial than ever. “Safety in space tourism is paramount because any accident resulting in death or injury presents the real risk of undermining the confidence of potential space tourism customers,” said Brennan.