If the weather in Florida holds, Wednesday evening could mark a historic first in spaceflight: the first all-civilian, all-private orbital mission, courtesy of the Inspiration4.
The 5-hour launch window for Inspiration4 opens just after 8 p.m. Eastern Time, and if all goes well, that window will see a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule ride one of the Elon Musk-owned company’s Falcon 9 rockets to space to three days of orbital spaceflight. It will also be the first crewed space mission since 2009 not to fly to a space station.
To help you better understand the Inspiration4 mission — or learn about it for the first time — in the hours before the historic launch, here is some of the best coverage of the mission from around the web.
5. Who is in the Inspiration4 crew and how were they chosen?
The four-person crew of Inspiration4 is led — and funded — by billionaire Jared Isaacman, the founder of payments processing company Shift4Payments. The rest of the crew includes planetary science professor Sian Proctor, data engineer Chris Sembroski, and physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux.
In addition to giving a billionaire and his friends a ride to space, Inspiration4 has raised $113 million for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, with $13 million raised through individual donations and $100 million given by Isaacman.
USA Today explains the selection of the four crew members in a piece first published in March. Isaacman was self-selected, purchasing the entire mission from SpaceX in order to fulfill a lifelong dream, and is covering all costs for the other three crew members.
Isaacman then chose Arceneaux as the second Inspiration4 crew member in order to represent St. Jude’s. The 29-year-old works at the hospital as a Physician Assistant, and was formerly a pediatric cancer patient at the hospital herself.
Sembroski was selected from a pool of 72,000 entries in a contest to win the seat based on donations to the associated St. Jude’s fundraising campaign, while Proctor was chosen from a pool of 200 entrepreneurs who competed on their ability to raise funds for St. Jude’s using Isaacman’s Shift4Payments platform.
4. Why is Inspiration4 a historic mission?
Inspiration4 represents the first all-civilian orbital mission, using only private vehicles, which is also entirely privately funded. It also marks the fulfillment of a latent promise made early in the space age, that one day, every day people might come to live and work in space, as Alan Ladwig, former head of NASA’s spaceflight participation program, notes in the Washington Post.
“It’s important because finally after almost 70 years of discussion of how it wouldn’t be long before we could all fly in space, it is finally happening for civilians,” Ladwig says.
3. How is Inspiration4 helping St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital?
It’s reasonable to question whether a billionaire flying to space is the best possible way to raise funds to fight pediatric cancer — like, maybe spending the resources needed to build and power a rocket on cancer research instead. But according to a Time interview with Richard Shadyac, the President and CEO of St. Jude’s fundraising organization, he doesn’t see any contradictions.
“Jared Isaacman has made a $100 million commitment to us,” Shadyac says. “So I would say that Jared is helping to solve this multi-trillion, multi-year problem that global cancer is.”
He adds that it’s also generated important awareness for the organization and its cause.
“It has allowed us to get in front of different audiences. We know that many of the people who participated in this drawing tended to be on the younger side. So it brought some of those people who may not have gravitated toward our mission.”
2. What is the Crew Dragon Capsule?
The Crew Dragon Capsule is SpaceX’s vehicle for orbital flights to and from the International Space Station, as well as solely orbital flights like Inspiration4.
This November, the BBC took readers on a tour of the 9-meter tall Crew Dragon capsule, its 16 Draco thrusters, and sleek Tesla-esque interior with touch screen controls. The story also details the vehicle's launch and re-entry procedures.
One thing missing from this BBC’s description, however, is the Inspiration4 cupola. Without the need to dock with the ISS, SpaceX removed the spacecraft’s usual docking ring and replaced it with a giant fishbowl window that should give the crew incredible views of the Earth and Space, as CNET notes.
1. What will the Inspiration4 crew do in space?
Although they are all private astronauts, Inspiration4 is taking a step beyond mere space tourism and putting the crew to work. This piece in Space.com details the various space medicine and health experiments the crew will conduct for researchers at the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine and at Weill Cornell Medicine.
“Data will be collected on the crew members' ECG activity, movement, sleep, heart rate and rhythm, blood oxygen levels as well as the light and sound levels within the Crew Dragon cabin,” Chelsea Good writes.
Read more about the Inspiration4: