SpaceX makes our dreams of ‘travel to space’ true with its 1st all-civilian crew

SpaceX made history as it launched a crew of private citizens on a jaunt around Earth. For an added bonus, the rocket landed on its drone ship, marking the company’s 92nd booster recovery.

The mission, called Inspiration4, blasted off from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida — the start of a planned five-hour window. A four-person crew was strapped inside a Crew Dragon spacecraft which sat perched atop a slightly sooty 229-feet-tall (70 meters) Falcon 9 rocket. 

“Few have come before, and many are about to follow,”. Jared Issacman said from inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft, referring to civilians in space. “The door is now open, and it’s pretty incredible.”

Ahead of the historic liftoff, forecasters at the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron predicted an 80% chance of favorable weather conditions, and mother nature did not disappoint. The Falcon 9 lit up the sky, turning night into day and it climbed through the atmosphere on a pillar of flames and smoke. The rumble from its engines even set off car alarms at the viewing area. 

Inspiring hope

Ten months ago, billionaire tech entrepreneur Jared Isaacman announced to the world that he would embark on a new type of spaceflight: one that didn’t involve professional astronauts but carried private citizens into space. In an effort to set his mission apart from other billionaires going to space, Isaacman decided to raise money and awareness for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

To that end, the Inspiration4 mission was born. Isaacman purchased a flight on a Dragon from SpaceX for an undisclosed amount of money. He knew he would be using those seats to carry out his mission objective of inspiring humanity while raising money for children’s cancer research.

The first seat he said would go to a frontline worker. That lucky person is Hayley Arceneaux, who is not only a cancer survivor and former patient at St. Jude, but she is also a physician’s assistant working for the organization that saved her life. She is the youngest American to fly in space and the first to do so with a prosthesis. (She has a metal rod in her leg following surgery during her battle with cancer.)

The second seat was part of an auction that raised $13 million alone for St. Jude. Featured in a 30-second ad that aired during the Superbowl this year, the winner of this seat was drawn from a pool of donors. That winner ended up being Chris Sembroski, though he didn’t technically win, one of his friends did and they gave the seat to him.

The final seat was up for grabs as part of a shark tank-like contest, where entrepreneurs across the country could make a shop that would bring in donations for St. Jude. Contestants would submit videos promoting their shops, and one winner would be chosen to fly on the mission. Sian Proctor, a geoscientist and professor at Southern Mountain Community College in Phoenix, Arizona was ultimately selected as the winner for her efforts to sell her art and poetry.  

‘Reaching the stars, literally’

The crew hopes that their mission will inspire others around the world to never give up and keep pursuing their dream of reaching for the stars. 

For one crewmember in particular, this is her life’s dream come true. Proctor, whose father worked on the Apollo moon program for NASA, has always wanted to be an astronaut. She was a finalist in NASA’s astronaut selection process in 1999 but ultimately was passed over. More than a decade later, she is living her dream. 

The flight is also a foray into what SpaceX hopes will be a new era of space: one where regular people, like the crew of Inspiration4, can travel to space. 

“The all-civilian Inspiration4 astronauts are paving the way for a future where space is more accessible to all who wish to go, and we are so proud that they entrusted us to fly them,” SpaceX president and COO, Gwynne Shotwell said. 

“Our crew carries the responsibility and importance of this mission as we prepare to blast off,” Isaacman said in the same statement. “We have been well-prepared for the challenges ahead of us the next three days and look forward to sharing our experience with the world as we continue to bring attention to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital here on Earth.”

Amidst the gloom of the pandemic, it looks like the time when civilians can fly into space has actually arrived! Well, we do live in incredible times!

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Tejaswini Pagadala

Communications Consultant: TEJASWINI PAGADALA is an independent communications consultant. She has previously worked with the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister’s Office as the Communications Officer where she has written English speeches for the CM, managed English media communication from the CMO and handled social media accounts of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and the Government.
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