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 Dragon ‘Resilience‘ — 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?
(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!