Those Four People in Space

Ok, just to catch you up, four people who do not work for NASA will likely go to space next week in a SpaceX Dragon Crew Capsule. They will orbit the Earth for several days doing science experiments and then return. They will orbit higher than the Space Shuttle, Soyuz, Mir, the International Space Station, Skylab or Tiangong, which means that they will fly deeper into space than any human since the Apollo moon landings 1999…the first Hubble Space Telescope repair (STS-103).

This flight compares to the recent crewed missions of Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic in that it will be privately funded by rich guys, fly outside Earth’s atmosphere, and be performed by folks who don’t work for any government space agency. The news media has adopted the term “Civilian Astronauts” to classify folks on these flights, and in a way it works since none of them actually are in the military, but these folks will not be the first civilians in Earth orbit.

The more useful way to describe this historic flight might be to call these people “Private” or “Citizen” or “Amateur” astronauts. There have been other suggestions. The best I’ve seen so far has been “Commercial Astronauts”.

Inspiration4 differs from the Branson and Bezos flights in that this one will go to orbit. So, instead of just popping up out of the atmosphere and then dropping back down and landing just minutes after launch, these folks will hang out in space, circling the Earth.

I’ll quickly tell you about each of them…

Jared Isaacman is the new rocket man. I know, folks have been calling Elon Musk that, but Elon doesn’t fly privately owned jet fighter aircraft or own a military jet fighter aerobatics team. Jared funded the Inspiration4 mission, buying all four seats on a SpaceX Dragon flight for three-days in orbit and chose who would sit in them. As a philanthropist, his cause these days is to promote the Saint Jude Children’s Research Hospital and this flight to space will be part of that. His roll in the flight will be Mission Commander.

Hayley Arceneaux is a cancer survivor…one of St. Jude Hospital’s former bone cancer patients. Now she holds a degree in Spanish and Physician Assistant degree. She works for St. Jude’s Hospital and at 29 she’ll be the youngest person in the United States to fly in space and the first person with a prosthetic (she has a femur made of Titanium) to fly in space. She will serve as the flight’s Physician.

Dr. Sian Proctor is an educator with several science degrees who has come close to space twice…almost being selected as a NASA Astronaut. She’s also participated in Earth-bound simulated space missions. Her father worked at a NASA relay station in Guam where he participated in Apollo 11 and she will bring a letter from Neil Armstrong to her father with her on the trip. She will serve as mission Pilot.

Like Dr. Proctor, Chris Sembroski is a long-time space nut. With a degree in aerospace, he has served as a Space Camp counselor and worked in the Air Force on Minute Man missiles and in Iraq. His friend won the St. Jude donation lottery to go with Jared Isaacman to space, but couldn’t go, so he gave his flight to Chris. He works for an aerospace company and will serve as the spacecraft engineer during the flight.

Billionaires Jared Isaacman of Shift4 Payments, Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Blue Origin and Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin Galactic have this year sponsored the exciting first flights in the space tourism component of the new space race, but these projects are not entirely the “rich guy joy-rides” or “billionaire space yacht club” that they have often been perceived to be. These flights do science as well. I’ve always considered “Space Tourism” to be a misnomer, since research projects, mid-sized to large businesses, and foreign space agencies all have the means to help fund these kinds of space activities and would want to take advantage of the cost savings and launch cadence of commercial space to send up both experiments and people. In fact, Virgin Galactic will fly folks from the Italian Airforce on their next commercial “Space Tourism” flight, as well as some stuff from NASA. See how that works?

Inspiration4 will do science work geared toward gathering data for space longevity studies. Yes, they do that stuff on the International Space Station already, but the ISS orbits 220 miles up. Inspiration4 will spend three days higher, at 370 miles, where radiation exposure is higher.

Not only that, these people were not selected for their physiology and are not the perfectly screened mental and physical health specimens that NASA likes to select to send to orbit. So, the biology samples and other data that will be collected during the Inspiration4 flight will help broaden the spaceflight health requirements to that of normal folks. In the end, this data will contribute to a new open database of spaceflight biology studies geared toward helping pave the road to space for the masses instead of just the elite astronauts hired and trained by government-run space agencies.

They intend to launch on September 15th from SpaceX’s launch pad at Kennedy Space Center, which just happens to be the same pad that NASA used for the Apollo Moon missions 50 years ago. Another “tourist” flight on the SpaceX Dragon is in the works for next year for a similar batch of folks to visit the International Space Station (ISS). Some other companies are developing private space stations to replace the ISS and SpaceX has crewed moon flights planned with the ginormous new rocket that they’re developing. Also, let’s not forget SpaceX’s Mars plans for which all of the above is just practice.

This flight is bursting with firsts…

  • The first ever all commercial orbital space mission and the SpaceX Dragon’s first totally NASA-free, crewed spaceflight.
  • The first time someone with an artificial body part (Arceneaux’s femur) has ever flown in space.
  • Arceneaux will be the youngest person from the U.S. to ever orbit the Earth.
  • As I said before, they will be the highest-flying humans since 1999 (first Hubble repair).
  • The first crewed spacecraft not headed to a space station since the second Hubble repair.

As part of their mission training, they’ve ridden a “Vomit Comet”, an aircraft that people use to train for living and working in zero gravity. They’ve also climbed together on Mount Rainier to learn to work as a team and ridden in Jared’s two-seat fighter jets.

Looks to me like the training is nearly as much fun as the space flight. I’ll bet you didn’t realize that the “orbit the Earth” item on your bucket list came with all that other neat stuff! NASA provides their astronauts and others with similar training, only much more of it, but if our country is going to totally ditch NASA as our sole provider of human spaceflight then things like training and other logistics needs will have to be privatized like this.

The Inspiration4 crew has done this training while still working their regular jobs, but I doubt that any of them will need those jobs for much longer. Human space flight is pretty popular and the experience they gain next week will be sought by others who wish to follow in their footsteps.

So, I suppose we could dub them…”Ordinary Folk Astronauts”, at least for now, even though they’re already extraordinary.

Maybe we’ll just call them “Commercial Astronauts” and let it go at that.


Sept. 12, 2021 Update: Late last week, shortly after I posted this article, launch was postponed to Sept. 16th because of weather and various other reasons.

Also, I was wrong when I said that the highest human spaceflight prior to this was the last Apollo moon mission in December of 1972. The first Space Shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope flew eight miles higher, to 378 miles, than Inspiration4 will. In addition, I knew but didn’t realize at the first writing that the last time any crewed space craft has flown in orbit anywhere except to a space station was in 2009 when the Space Shuttle again flew to the Hubble Space Telescope to perform maintenance and upgrades. Kudos to the Every Day Astronaut website that corrected me on those details. I expect that all of these firsts will be eclipsed very soon…most likely within the next five years…at the rate things are currently going.

BTW…The crew of Inspiration4 arrived at Cape Canaveral on Thursday in Jared’s L-39 Albatros fighters and Alpha Jet fighters. How cool is that!

9/15/2021 Update: Another first that I didn’t realize at the first writing that Dr. Proctor is the first African American Woman to ever pilot a spacecraft.

The flight coverage has begun…

~ by Bill Housley on September 9, 2021.

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