The first flight

Inspiration4: How sports shaped the Netflix documentary

The director of the Netflix documentary explains how he brought this moment to a mainstream audience

by Mike Brown and Ashley Bardhan
Originally Published: 

It happened — SpaceX’s first all-civilian flight, the Inspiration4, successfully blasted off on September 15, breaking a bottle on what some might call a new era for spaceflight. While the four-person amateur crew continues their three-day orbit, though, one man on Earth worries about how it all might look on-camera ...

Progress updates in space.

Making history into TV

We’re back in time to September 2, and Jason Hehir is still poring over edits to the first two episodes of his latest documentary. After directing Emmy-winning docuseries The Last Dance, Hehir is now the director of Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space, the five-part Netflix documentary that chronicles the SpaceX mission.

It’s being produced as the historic moment unfolds; time is of the essence.

“My brain is all over the place,” he says, as he puts the finishing touches on the first two episodes. The episodes are set to go live on September 6. “It’s around the clock at this point.”

It’s perhaps the first contact many viewers will have with the emerging new space race. While Inverse readers may assume that these flights are common knowledge, they attract a relatively small audience.

Want to know more about Hehir’s career, his changing relationship to space, and a surprising fact about Inspiration4 crew member Chris Sembroski? Read the full interview with director Jason Hehir, only in MUSK READS+.

NASA’s Demo-2 mission, SpaceX’s first crewed flight, attracted just over 10 million viewers. Netflix’s Bridgerton, on the other hand, received over 80 million views and ranks as Netflix’s most-watched show ever.

Richard B. Cooper, vice president of strategic communications and outreach for Space Foundation, summed it up in Musk Reads+ #75: “You're taking the message and the story where people are consuming it most.”

Hehir’s work will introduce this race at a pivotal moment.

  • It comes as SpaceX plans further civilian flights with Space Adventures and Axiom Space using the Crew Dragon capsule
  • The firm will also send Starship, a rocket designed to send the first humans to Mars, on its first orbital flight later this year
  • Competitors like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic also hope to open space up to tourism

The pressure is on to appeal to a broad audience, explain several complicated concepts, and outline where this race goes next.

The project started forming in January before the mission was announced. The Inspiration4 team hadn’t chosen the astronauts yet — meaning the camera crew could capture every step of the process.

Hehir’s involvement started on April 1. He received an email from a Netflix executive, who Hehir had previously worked with on HBO’s ongoing documentary series 24/7.

“That was a real-time follow documentary, where we were shooting stuff right up until the night before shows aired,” Hehir says. “It was very much, in the true sense of the term, real-time.”

The 2017 series, focusing on the boxing fight between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, was nominated for a Primetime Emmy award. It followed the two in their journey up to the big fight, exploring their past and motivations.

The executive’s email contained a link to a New York Times article detailing the Inspiration4 mission. Hehir picked up the phone, and the two agreed: this should be a 24/7-style show.


Here is what you will gain from subscribing to MUSK READS+:

  • Three emails per week, enabling fans to go deeper into the week’s stories.
  • Original interviews and reporting, longform analysis, previews, and recaps of major events, including earnings calls and more.
  • Community-focused extras like responses to reader mail, an upcoming event calendar, and notable anniversaries.
  • An archive of previous subscriber-only content, so you can easily read back over what you might have missed.
  • Promotional deals and offers.
  • Supporting original, independent journalism.

MUSK READS+ is a fully independent operation. We are not Elon Musk, nor are we employed by him. Our job is to report the events we find noteworthy, giving you the inside look at the worlds of space rockets, electric cars, clean energy, and more. It means first-hand accounts of a SpaceX rocket launch, Tesla insights from third-party analysts, and more.

If you want to support us in our mission, and receive original interviews and analysis, consider contributing with a subscription.

This article was originally published on

Related Tags