‘Very ordinary’ astronauts prepare for an extraordinary launch to space

One is a 29-year-old medical assistant living in Memphis, a cancer survivor with a metal rod in her left leg to replace bones destroyed by a tumor.

Another is a 51-year-old community college professor from Phoenix, who is just a few minutes away from achieving her dream of becoming a NASA astronaut.

The third is a data engineer living in western Washington, who was once a camp counselor who offered kids a taste of being an astronaut.

The fourth, 38, is a high school dropout who became the billionaire founder of a payment processing company. He is the one who is paying for a trip into space that has never been seen before, where there are no professional astronauts.

This crew of four is about to go to space together, will launch on a SpaceX rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 8:02 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday. They will orbit the planet for three days at an altitude higher than the International Space Station.

The mission, known as Inspiration 4, is also the first where the government is, by and large, an audience. It’s far more ambitious and riskier than the minute-long jaunt on the edge of space completed in July by two ultrarich business celebrities, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos.

The voyage shows that a private citizen, for at least a few hundred million dollars and a few months, is now able to rent a spacecraft to essentially circle the planet.

In this case, it’s Jared Isaacman, the founder of Shift4 Payments, a company that processes payments for restaurants and other businesses. His public profile is much lower than that of Mr. Branson or Mr. Bezos.

While the two traveled in spacecraft operated by companies they founded, Mr Isaacman’s flight is being managed by SpaceX, a private company run by another billionaire, Elon Musk, whose company has spent the past decade. has carried forward the space business in the U.S., which competitors had considered impossible. While offering low prices for going into space.

Travel like Inspiration4 is still affordable only for the richest. But it is no longer impossible.

Deciding to spend a large portion of his fortune, Mr. Isaacman didn’t want to bring just a few friends along. Instead, he opened up opportunities for three people he didn’t know.

The result is a mission with a team that is more representative of the wider society – Hayley Arsinaux, a 29-year-old physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Sean Proctor, 51-year-old Black Community College professor; and, 42-year-old data engineer Christopher Sambrowski.

“We’re getting all the same training for all of these emergency procedures as any other NASA astronaut crew has done in the past,” Mr. Sambrowski said during an interview last week. It was the last day he and his teammates spent at their homes before heading to Florida for the launch.

“I think we’re ready to go to space,” said Mr. Sembrowski.

The diverse life stories of the Inspiration4 crew present a remarkable contrast with Mr. Branson and Mr. Bezos, whose journey was seen by many as a joy ride for billionaires.

“The world hasn’t seen what it benefits them,” said Timibi Agnaba, a professor of space and society at Arizona State University, of Mr. Branson and Mr. Bezos’s Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin flights. “They were like, ‘It’s just a playground for the rich.'”

With his crew of people each, Mr. Isaacman is striving to achieve the goal of science fiction writers and space enthusiasts: opening up space not only to professional astronauts and wealthy space tourists, but to everyone.

“The difference with this flight is that we have three very normal people on the flight basically, and they’re going to show us what it means to open it up,” Dr. Agnaba said.

Dr. Proctor, who learned to fly planes as part of his attempt to become a NASA astronaut, pointed to cancer survivor Ms. Arsinox, who would become the first artificial person to travel to space. That said, broadens people’s idea of ​​who an astronaut could be.

“That’s why representation matters,” Dr. Proctor said, who would be the first black woman to serve as a pilot of a spacecraft. “And access matters.”

The mission also reflects the growing role of private enterprise in space.

“This represents part of the transition to low-Earth orbit for private sector activities that NASA has been pursuing for many years,” said John M. Logsdon, founder and former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. ” “Because it involves humans, it is high visibility. But in its essence, it is just a part of a larger movement.”

The mission is using the same Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule that SpaceX developed to carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. Indeed, the capsule that will send Mr Isaacman and his companions to orbit the Earth is exactly the same one, named Resilience, that was used for the NASA mission launched in November last year. It then returned to Earth in May.

For Inspire 4, Mr. Isaacman named the four available seats in the spacecraft to represent the qualities he hoped the mission would represent: leadership, which was there for him, and hope, generosity for his fellow passengers. and prosperity.

When he decided to use the trip to help raise money for St. Jude, which provides free cancer care for children, he asked the hospital to suggest a frontline health worker to represent hope. asked for Hospital officials presented Ms Arsinox. The seat of generosity, which went to Mr. Sambrowski, raised money for St. Jude through a raffle. Then Mr. Isaacman’s company Shift4 held a competition for entrepreneurial ideas, and Dr. Proctor won the prosperity seat. Creating a Store to Sell Space-Themed Art she makes.

But she noted that Mr Isaacman was paying all the bills, including a Super Bowl ad in February that launched the mission for Americans.

Mr Isaacman has declined to say how much he is paying, only that he expects less than $200 million for St. Jude.

“We are still far from being able to go into space for regular people,” Dr. Agnaba said.

All four have been in the public spotlight as they prepare for flight, including a netflix documentary, a Time magazine special issue And an axios podcast.

In the Netflix documentary, Ms Arsinaux invites friends over to watch the Super Bowl – a small gathering with a film crew. “I told my friends that I had a really big secret,” she said.

Her friends thought she was going to be a contestant on “The Bachelor”. When the Inspiration4 ad aired, “One of them jokingly said, ‘Oh, you’re going to space?’ And then I said, ‘Yeah, I’m actually going to outer space.'”

In March, the four began intense training, which included swinging around a giant centrifuge in Pennsylvania, to adapt to the crushing forces experienced during launch and landing. He flew in an aircraft that simulates the experience of free fall.

He spent 30 consecutive hours in a Crew Dragon simulator at SpaceX, running through contingency plans for multiple emergencies.

“The moment it started and throughout the whole thing, time went by so fast,” Isaacman said. “We were like, we’ll do it again.”

He did it again, with another 10 hours of simulation.

Ms Arsinox will serve as the flight’s medical officer and do some research on the crew during the flight. Dr. Proctor has to act as a pilot, although the spacecraft largely flies itself. Mr. Sembroski will have an assortment of responsibilities as mission specialist, while Mr. Isaacman is the flight commander.

It could be a few years before another launch like the Inspire 4. The cost of observing Earth from orbit would be far beyond most people’s means. And the effort carries high risks, with many observers calling the death of Christa McAuliffe, a teacher who was aboard the space shuttle Challenger, disintegrated during launch in 1986. It is a far cry from a commercial airline flight and is more like the orbital equivalent of scaling Mt. Everest.

“I would argue that it’s not really a market,” said Roger D., a private space historian. Launius, who previously worked at NASA and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. “Basically, it’s a pleasure ride that people are going to do once in a while.”

Nevertheless, this opportunity is also available, there is a big change.

For decades, astronauts were usually government employees—people who worked for NASA or the Soviet space program, who launched in their own government-run rockets.

During the Obama administration, NASA decided to hire private companies to build spacecraft for trips to the space station. It chose Boeing and SpaceX for the job.

Capitalizing on an earlier contract to send cargo to the space station, SpaceX already captured a major share of the market for launching commercial satellites with its Falcon 9 rocket.

NASA hopes that federal investment in the Crew Dragon capsule could similarly spur a sizable market for taking people into space. However, that path remains uncertain. For now, non-professional astronauts fall into two groups: people with lots of money and people in the entertainment business.

A Houston company, Axiom Space, scheduled to launch early next year, is also using SpaceX’s Resilience Capsule. The mission will take three people, paying $55 million each, for a trip to the International Space Station lasting several days.

A Discovery Channel reality television competition, “Who Wants to Be an Astronaut?” The latter axiom is to offer a visit to the space station on missions as a reward.

The Russian space agency has also resumed sales of seats on its Soyuz rocket for trips to the space station. In October, Yulia Peresild, a Russian actress, and Klim Shipenko, a filmmaker, could go to the space station to shoot scenes for the film. A few months later, Japanese fashion entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa may follow.

Mr. Maezawa’s 12-day visit will be the prelude to it He hopes to embark on a more ambitious journey around the moon in a few years Giant SpaceX Starship Rocket Currently in development. That journey, named Dear Moon, would probably be closest to the spirit of Inspire 4. A competition to select eight people to go with him attracted a million applicants, and Mr. Maezawa is currently going through the finalists.

Before the flight, the crew said during a news conference Tuesday in SpaceX’s hangar at Kennedy Space Center that they were confident and didn’t feel nervous beforehand.

“I was always worried that this moment would never come in my life so I set out to go,” Dr. Proctor said. “Lets do it.”

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