Updated on October 1, 2022
- It is arguably the most crucial mission in the so-called billionaire space race of 2021 and a necessary first step toward a more affluent future.
Consider receiving a phone call informing you that you can join a select group of fewer than a thousand humans who have visited not only space but also orbited the planet.
Oh, and the mission is scheduled to launch in approximately six months.
That was the call received earlier this year by three Americans. And the offer was not for the 15-minute joyride to the edge of space that Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic recently announced.
We’re talking about a three-day stay in orbit, the sort of thing for which NASA astronauts train their entire lives.
While civilians have previously flown to the International Space Station, this has typically required a personal fortune, a fraction of influence, and months, if not years, of training.
The concept of plucking people from obscurity and launching them into orbit ala Willy Wonka has long been the stuff of science fiction.
As I typed this, physician’s assistant Hayley Arceneaux and data engineer Chris Sembroski, both of whom had no reason to believe they’d ever visited space a year ago, were whizzing around the globe every 90 minutes.
— St. Jude (@StJude) September 17, 2021
They were joined by billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman and geologist Sian Proctor, who have piloting experience but have never flown in space.
The quartet comprises the entirety of the Inspiration4 mission’s crew, which splashed down on Earth on Saturday.
There was no NASA-trained astronaut chaperone on board, only four space novices cruising above the Earth, conducting research and making history.
The mission is also being promoted as a fundraiser for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, where Arceneaux was a patient as a child and now works as a physician.
This was all made possible by Isaacman and SpaceX’s autonomous Crew Dragon spacecraft, the first new crewed spacecraft (outside of China) since the space shuttle’s debut decades ago.
This mission is significant for space enthusiasts, but several billion other humans may wonder why it matters that another wealthy individual has financed a trip to space and invited a few randos along.
Who is the source of inspiration?
To begin, it’s critical to remember that new modes of transport have historically followed a similar path — trains and planes began as elite experiences before revolutionizing our lives.
This suggests that the Inspiration4 crew may be the first of many ordinary people to travel to orbit or beyond. (A request for comment from SpaceX was not returned.)
Elon Musk has suggested that his next-generation Starship could eventually be used for ultra-fast international flights via orbit, with a lower carbon footprint than current commercial jetliners.
Inspiration4 lays the groundwork for the concept of passively traveling to orbit and freeing up space for transportation and other possible uses.
If, as I do, you believe that expanding humanity’s footprint beyond our planet will almost certainly improve life on our Earth, Inspiration4 is a significant milestone on that generation-long journey.
I’m not convinced that Mars is the best location for a city or that living on orbiting space stations will ever be feasible.
However, I know a few things: Industrialization on Earth frequently hurts the planet’s delicate ecosystems, and some of that industry could be relocated to space.
Billionaires in the area today could pave the way for factories or power plants in orbit in the future, assisting us in finally mitigating climate change.
The original space race from the 1950s to the 1970s did not simply put humans on the moon; it spawned many innovations that underpin our modern civilization.
The GPS on your phone that navigates you to your destination and our satellite-based society that transmits data at the speed of light can be traced directly back to the Mercury and Apollo programs and the establishment of NASA.
It’s exciting to speculate on which aspects of daily life in 2050 will be dominated by SpaceX and Inspiration4.
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