Later this year, SpaceX is expected to take a milestone by launching the first fully civilian spacecraft crew into orbit around Earth.
The mission is called Inspiration4, and although some of the team’s four have experience with airplanes or rocket science, none have been to space before.
Still, they’ll spend about three days in a row with each other, packed inside SpaceX’s slightly modified 27-foot-by-13-foot Dragon capsule.
The team consists of Hayley Arceneaux, a bone cancer survivor and medical assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran and aerospace industry professional who has previously serviced intercontinental ballistic missiles; and Sian Proctor, pilot, geoscientist and 2009 NASA Astronaut Program finalist.
And finally, there’s Mission Commander Jared Isaacman, a seasoned pilot and founder of Shift4 Payments and Draken International, a private supplier of fighter jets to military customers.
Talk to News week, Isaacman discussed his intense training regimen, the mission’s goal of raising $ 200 million for St Jude’s Hospital, and the experience of living in what is essentially a high-tech space cabinet. Inspiration4 is currently scheduled to launch on September 15th. Some quotes have been edited slightly for clarity.
Why is this mission important?
This is the first time that people have climbed into orbital space and not been sent there by a global superpower. You know, this is the highest altitude mission we’ve ever done in over 20 years, it’s long after the space station.
But it goes further than that. You have an astronaut crew that would never have been selected by NASA, be it the ultra rigorous health exams… we have a crew member who is a former survivor of pediatric cancer with a bone prosthesis that would have been excluded from NASA. But now we say it’s good. And what else comes from there? [It’s] everything to make the space more accessible.
The last and most important element is that we recognize that in order to make progress for tomorrow, we have a responsibility to address some of the problems of today. That’s why St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is such an important part of Inspiration4, raising, you know, $ 200 million to deal with the real problems of today. And childhood cancer should definitely be at the top of the list.
Was there a particular aspect of the training where you thought, okay, it’s a lot harder than I thought?
I think about the intensity. I had in mind that we were going to come here, and it will probably be a few hours of training, then I will have time to do emails, and I will have time to make a conference call, and then maybe a few extra hours of training… wrong.
You arrive at SpaceX at 7 a.m. and then we leave at the end of the day at 7 p.m. And then you go back to the hotel and study, and we’ve been doing that for a few months now.
And the flight profile that we’re following, there’s just a lot of chances that things will go wrong. So the amount of things we have to train for is quite large. If you take a look at a NASA crew mission to the space station, they accelerate as quickly as possible from the launch pad to the safety of the space station. And then when they leave they come back and they can wait for bad weather if they need to, they can just stay on the space station a little longer.
But for us, once we go up, we are engaged and we have to come back down within five days. There is no safe haven to go to.
How much do you personally expect to control Dragon?
Yeah, so it really depends. It is very comparable to almost all the jets that I have flown. I can be in the cockpit with emails, just watch to make sure everything is going well. So I would say that in that regard, a lot of things can be automated.
The problem is, all the automation is done over data links on the ground. So if you lose communications or start having some kind of system failure, it all comes back to the manual.
What about the desorbit?
If everything went exactly as planned, then we’ll have a desorbit profile that will be uploaded from the ground, which takes advantage of an army of people in Mission Control, calculating things, which is exactly how the space shuttle does it. did.
But let’s say we’re up there and something unexpected happened, so I can bring us back manually.
You are going to be in a modified Dragon. So, are you going to have separate living quarters?
No, the four of us live in the equivalent of a closet. The only real change is that SpaceX is removing the docking system and replacing it with the world’s largest space window. Which is incredibly cool. You can’t see the glass. So you literally feel like you’re in space without a spacesuit.
What will happen every time you need to use the bathroom?
The Dragon has a bathroom and a privacy curtain. It’s very close to the ceiling. I mean, it’s not very private, but it’s a small price to pay to have a chance to go to space.
You will also be doing science on board. What experiences are you going to do?
Much of it all revolves around the physiological impacts on the human body and cells from radiation exposure, ultimately supporting long duration spaceflight. So I mean, if we go to Mars someday, that’s a six month transit time. So it has an impact on your body in several ways.
People ask, “What’s the radiation exposure for you guys, three days in orbit?” and it’s roughly the equivalent of an abdominal CT scan. Divide six months by a scanner every three days. And then you have time on Mars and time to come back, and the reality is it’s hundreds. But there are also cognitive issues, as fluid moves through your body.
This whole idea of a commercial space industry and space tourism, how bad do you think it’s going to be?
It’s hard to say. I use the example of Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean a lot. Twelve years later, you had a commercial service for transatlantic flights. So I don’t know if it’s five years, 10 years, 15 years, but I do know that if we get our mission, right, the door will remain open for so many more exciting ones to follow.
Was SpaceX easy enough to trade and have you ever spoken to Elon Musk?
I was just knocking on the door saying, “Hey, that interests me, any time that could be a thing, maybe it’s a year or five years away.” I didn’t expect them to say, we’ll be ready in seven or eight months, and you could be the first. I was like, whoa. So they weren’t picky about it. SpaceX was really easy to work with.
I spoke to Elon Musk at different points in the process. He is super supportive. He’s a big brain, a very cerebral guy. I try not to take a lot of his time because I feel like I’m preventing him from solving the world’s problems.
What do you expect the most from the mission?
Everyone in the crew responds a little differently. But for me, it’s really just the execution. I just want to do it right. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll look out the window and float and, and eat peanut M&M that will swing.
But I care about the mission, I know what’s at stake. If it goes wrong, everyone will say it was such a bad idea, and that it should stick with NASA and Russian cosmonauts.
I want to do it right. I want to know that things are going well, so that we can make sure the door stays open for everyone. So that’s what matters most to me in the mission.