Tag Archives: Spaceflight

Space Tourism is Awesome: Inspiration4

Right to left: Chris, Jared, Haley, Sian

It’s not all gloom-and-doom on the space tourism front. Despite complaining about Bezos/Branson flying into space and how pointless their suborbital hops were, there is hope for real space tourism in the future. Why? Because Inspiration4 launches this week!

First, a short history lesson. The first person to pay their way into space, the first space tourist, was Dennis Tito way back in 2001. He footed the bill and flew to space on board a Soyuz spacecraft headed for the International Space Station (ISS) and was in space for almost eight days. The price of his ticket: $20 million.

After Tito there’s be a handful (seven total) of rich people paying money to snag a ride on Soyuz. Space tourism has always been hitching a ride on an already scheduled flight going to the ISS. Sure, tourism, sure, money, but tagging along doesn’t feel as touristy as a dedicated flight into space just for the hell of going to space. Think of riding along with a stranger while they go to the store for groceries versus going on a vacation somewhere worthwhile with your friends, it’s kinda like that.

Inspiration4 will be the first flight that isn’t a “tag along” ride to the ISS. Inspiration4 will be its own capsule — flying on the SpaceX Crew DragonResilience‘ — on its own rocket, and in its own orbit. There is no faffing around with an actual scheduled ISS flight; the four of them are going up solo as tourists. They’ll get to remain in orbit just doing their thing for three days and then head back to Earth.

Let me stress that again: the four people going up are all tourists. There isn’t a single government astronaut among the bunch. You’d think that there’d be one person there that is a legit astronaut, someone who has done a few spaceflights, but no, it’s just the four of them going up for the first time. Apparently they’ve been through a bunch of training for this flight, but the Dragon was designed for purely automated flight. Since there is no requirement for a “certified astronaut” to actually fly the thing, these tourist flights might become a lot more common in the future.

Inspiration and Donations

Jared Isaacman, the guy behind Inspiration4, is a billionaire. Spaceflight still isn’t in the realm of the regular person but one thing you have to give Jared credit for is his realization that this flight is a pretty big deal. Isaacman is well aware that he’s setting a precedent here as the leader of the first legit, orbital, dedicated space tourism flight. Luckily he seems to be taking this seriously and is taking steps to show the public that this isn’t just a bunch of rich people taking a joyride. Inspiration4 is named such because the flight is supposed to actually inspire people. It’s also meant to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

(Note: It might’ve been easier to just donate the flight money directly to St. Jude, but where’s the fun in that? Plus if Jared raises more money than the flight cost it’s a net benefit. I’m all aboard the hype-train for this flight and will do all I can to get the word out about it. I’ll probably toss some money at St. Jude myself, let’s go with $100, in support of this flight. Ya know what? For every like or comment this post gets I’ll chuck an extra $20 towards them. Make me go poor guys, it’s for a good cause!)

Isaacman, instead of filling the other three seats with a bunch of rich people, had plans for offering them. The mission has four pillars — Leadership, Hope, Prosperity, and Generosity — and he filled the seats according to these pillars. The first, Leadership, represents Jared himself. There isn’t much to say about that one (he’s the leader and the person paying for all of this) so what about the other three crew members? Who are they?

The Crew

(Note: there’s a great series on Netflix documenting this flight, called Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space, and I highly recommend it. Most of the information about the crew I shamelessly stole from the show, so it deserves a shoutout. As of now there are three episodes with more to come, so go check it out!)

Haley Arceneaux — Hope

St. Jude got on board with Jared’s idea and had the perfect candidate. Haley Arceneaux works at St. Jude and is a childhood cancer survivor. Pretty good pick for “Hope” Huh? After beating cancer she decided to give back and help other kids like herself, landing a job at St. Jude as a physician’s assistant. At 29 years old, she’ll also be the youngest American to fly to space.

Dr. Sian Proctor — Prosperity

Sian was almost a NASA astronaut herself, making it to the final selection in 2009 but wasn’t selected. Winning an entrepreneurial competition (that I’m not knowledgeable about at all) gave her the Inspiration4 seat. She has her PhD and has apparently done a bunch of ‘simulated spaceflights’ studying things like living on Mars and growing food. By far the most badass of the four, she has that classic astronaut look to her, whatever that means. Steely-eyed issle man. Er, woman I mean.

Chris Sembroski – Generosity

Chris is my favorite member of the four because of how normal of a guy he is. He wasn’t almost an astronaut (until now), he didn’t survive cancer, and he’s not a billionaire. How did he end up on this flight? He donated some money to St. Jude and won. Generosity, I guess so, but if Jared made this final pillar luck it’d make just as much sense! (In fact, pushing this ‘luck’ thing some more, his friend actually won the seat, but passed it onto Chris.) Chris is a lucky guy, and you can tell he’s awestruck by how utterly unbelievable this opportunity is for him.

Inspiration4 is scheduled to launch Wednesday the 15th of September from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch window starts at 8:02 p.m. EDT (7:02 CDT, 6:02 MDT, 5:02 PDT, and so on…) and is a five-hour window (!!!), likely because there’s no ISS rendezvous orbital-mechanical bullshit to worry about; the long window gives SpaceX time to adjust to crummy weather conditions at the launch site. Weather permitting, Inspiration4 should launch at the beginning of the window.

SpaceX always has a live-stream of their launch although you should be able to find a stream anywhere on YouTube: space nerds in 2021 stream everything nowadays! I’ll be at work but hopefully I can catch the launch live. It’s the true start to space tourism, and billionaires be damned, maybe the everyday person can go someday!

For more information, check out the Inspiration4 website. Buy some merch! Go donate to St. Jude! Watch the launch on the SpaceX YouTube channel!

Space Tourism Sucks: Billionaires in Space

It’s been over a month since billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson yeeted themselves into Space aboard their own companies’ spaceships. Over a month since society unanimously eye-rolled so violently that the Earth’s rotational speed was changed by a few nanoseconds. Over a month since everyone sarcastically said, “Good for you guys! Now what about the rest of us stuck on this planet that’s going to hell? Can we go to space too?”

Billionaire hatred has been at the forefront of the zeitgeist for a few years now, maybe more, seemingly peaking during the pandemic, and at this peak is when Bezos/Branson decided to do their “courageous” voyage out of our atmosphere. I try to be pretty impartial — billionaires are people just like you and I! — but the whole trope of them being out of touch with the scumbag proletariat seems to be true.

Lex Luthor

It doesn’t seem very hard, even with a drillion dollars, to successfully read the room and realize that maybe launching yourself to space is a bad idea. It’s not a good look. Take Bezos for example, the richest man in the world and the top candidate for future supervillain trying to rule the planet. He has to know he’s despised and making a big deal out of his spaceflight seems clueless at best, out-of-touch maybe, and downright supervillainesque at worst. Like he’s well aware he’s rich, doesn’t give a shit about the people that helped him achieve his fortune, disregards any factor of luck in his life, and if he wants to go to space as a joyride well, who the hell is going to stop him? He’s basically a capitalist god and will do whatever the fuck he wants. I’m not saying that’s how he actually is — I’m not privileged enough to know the guy — but as some armchair blogger who likes space related things, this is how he appears to the masses. And let’s not even get started on him suing NASA

Sir Dick Branson

You have to give Branson some credit at least — he seemed like he wanted to fly to space before Bezos just to shit on his ego, classic troll style — and doesn’t seem to be as well-known or disliked as Bezos. Branson comes across as slightly aloof and awkward, content to do his own thing and not be (as much of) a pompous asshole as Bezos. Bezos is the bald-headed supervillain who wants to dominate the world and Branson seems like a pretty down-to-earth respectable guy, at least as far as billionaire CEOs go.

Suborbital vs. Orbital

As a space nerd the main thing that pisses me off about these two’s spaceflight is how useless they are. Tourism is supposed to be pointless but suborbital space tourism is even more pointless. You might recall the petition circulating before Bezos’ flight urging the government to “not allow him entry back to Earth,” or something like that. While pretty damn funny, it was pointless; there was no physical way for Bezos (or Branson) not to come back to Earth! The flights were suborbital — up and down like tossing a rock into the air — and you’d have to break some rules of the universe (just little-known laws such as ‘gravity’ and ‘general relativity’) to keep his ass up there.

“There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”

– Douglas Adams

Contrary to popular belief, there is gravity in space. The astronauts on the International Space Station appear weightless because they’re effectively “falling” around the Earth. Going to space is easy — just go upwards about 50 or 60 miles and you’re there — but staying in space is hard. You need to be going sideways really, really fast (about 17,500 mph fast) where falling back to Earth is really falling around the Earth, constantly missing it.

At least Branson’s spaceplane looks cool, unlike Bezos’ penis-rocket. No images of that because 1. It’s probably NSFW and 2. I don’t want Bezos/Blue Origin to sue me.

All of the circle-jerking these two made about flying into space is either missing the point or blatantly lying about their achievements; likely the latter because as space CEOs they should know the difference between suborbital and orbital flight. Maybe they’re aware they didn’t do shit and are firing up the PR-hype train to save their egos. They went up and down, up really high so they made it into space, but still just a glorified up and down joyride. It’s cool and all on its own, but let’s not pretend flying into space on a five-minute rollercoaster ride is somehow pushing the boundaries of space exploration, especially after taking more than a decade to develop their launch systems. Shouldn’t they have more to show for their time than a five-minute suborbital jaunt?

(Branson’s other company Virgin Orbital has recently launched small satellites into orbit. Sure, they can’t bring people into orbit, but at least the guy has the ability to do something useful in the spaceflight sector. It’s some more “Branson doesn’t seem that bad” compared to Lex Luthor Jeff Bezos.)

I’m all about spaceflight and have been waiting a long time for legit space tourism to become a thing. This should be good, right? It’s not stated but it’s heavily implied; space tourism should allow the everyday person to take a flight to space, not just the ultra rich. These pioneering flights into space by private companies seem to miss the mark quite a bit. In time the price should go down, but we’re still talking a ticket price of literal millions to fly into space on these vehicles. A million dollars is better than a billion dollars but still leaves space access far out of the reach of the normal person. By taking the first flight themselves, surely to show confidence in the launch vehicles, they’ve unknowingly set the precedent that space is still only for the ultra-rich/1%ers or trained astronauts. If you don’t have fuck-you money, if you’re not a god of capitalism, one of the lucky people, no, you cannot go to space. You cannot see the world from heaven because you’re not a god. You’re one of the people down here but you can pray to your overlords on their next spaceflight if you’d like. Hell, you might get a fat $0.50 raise after your next review.

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