This article originally appeared on The conversation. The post contributed the article to Space.com’s Expert voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Wendy Whitman Cobb, professor of strategy and security studies, US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies
On September 15, 2021, the next batch of space tourists are expected to take off aboard a SpaceX rocket. Organized and financed by an entrepreneur Jared isaacman, the Inspiration4 mission is presented as “the first fully civilian mission in orbit” and represents a new type of space tourism.
The four crew members won’t be the first space tourists this year. Over the past few months, the world has seen billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos launch, along with a lucky few, into space on brief suborbital journeys. While there are similarities between these launches and Inspiration4 – the mission is paid for by a billionaire and uses a rocket built by another, Elon Musk – the differences are notable. From my point of view as space policy expert, the mission emphasis on public participation and the fact that Inspiration4 will send ordinary people into orbit for three days makes it a milestone in space tourism.
Related: SpaceX’s Inspiration4 Private Fully Civilian Orbital Mission: Live Updates
In picture: Inspiration4: SpaceX’s historic private space flight
Why Inspiration4 is different
The biggest difference between Inspiration4 and flights taken earlier this year is the destination.
Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have taken – and in the future will take – their passengers on suborbital launches. Their vehicles only climb high enough to reach the beginning of space before returning to the ground a few minutes later. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon vehicle, however, are powerful enough to take the Inspiration4 crew to orbit, where they circle the earth for three days.
The four-person crew is also quite different from other launches. Led by Isaacman, the mission includes a somewhat diverse group of people. A crew member, Sian Proctor, won a contest among users of Isaacman’s online payment company. Another unique aspect of the mission is that one of its goals is to promote and fund St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As such, Isaacman chose Hayley Arceneaux, medical assistant in St. Jude and childhood cancer survivor, to participate in the launch. The last member, Christophe Sembroski, won his seat when his friend was chosen in a charity raffle for St. Jude and offered his seat to Sembroski.
Because none of the four participants had any prior formal astronaut training, the flight was referred to as the first “all civilian” space mission. While the rocket and crew capsule are both fully automated – no one on board will need to control any part of the launch or landing – the four members still had to undergo much more training than the people on. suborbital flights. In less than six months, the the crew suffered hours of training on a simulator, lessons in piloting a jet plane and going through a centrifuge to prepare them for the G forces of the launch.
Social awareness was also an important aspect of the mission. As the flights of Bezos and Branson began criticism of billionaire playboys in space, Inspiration4 tried – with mixed results – make space tourism more accessible. The crew recently appeared on the time magazine cover and is the subject of a Netflix Documentary.
There have also been other fundraising events for St. Jude, including a 4 mile virtual race and the planned auction of beer hops that will be transported to the mission.
The future of space tourism?
Sending a crew of amateur astronauts into orbit is an important step in the development of space tourism. However, despite the more inclusive feeling of the mission, there are still serious hurdles to overcome before ordinary people can go to space.
On the one hand, the cost remains quite high. Although three of the four are not rich, Isaacman is a billionaire and paid around $ 200 million to finance the trip. The need to train for a mission like this also means that potential passengers must be able to devote a lot of time to preparation, time that many ordinary people do not have.
Ultimately, space remains a dangerous place, and there will never be a way to completely eliminate the danger of launching people – whether untrained civilians or seasoned professional astronauts – into space.
Despite these limitations, orbital space tourism is coming. For SpaceX, Inspiration4 is an important proof of concept that they hope will further demonstrate the safety and reliability of their autonomous rocket and capsule systems. Indeed, SpaceX has several tourist missions planned in the coming months, although the company does not focus on space tourism. Some will even include stops at the International Space Station.
Even though space remains out of reach for most of Earth’s inhabitants, Inspiration4 is an example of how the efforts of billionaire space barons to include more people in their travels can make for an otherwise exclusive activity. wider public appeal.
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