Inspiration4 and SpaceX take giant leaps in space tourism
The first fully civilian space mission returned to Earth and dramatically improved the possibilities of space tourism.
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An ad aired during the Super Bowl in February announcing that not only would the very first all-civilian space flight take off this year, but the Inspiration4 crew would be offering seats to the public. By donating to St. Jude Children Research Hospital, future private astronauts would be entered into a raffle to win a spot as a crew member with Jared Isaacman, founder of Shift4 Payments who funded the trip.
Inspiration4’s fundraising goal was to raise $ 200 million, $ 100 million came from Isaacman but the mission fell short of its goal with $ 60 million from the public.
The launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket started from the historic Kennedy Space Center where SpaceX leased 39A, the same launch pad used by the Apollo missions – which Elon Musk and SpaceX have since refurbished and modernized.
The crew included entrepreneur Sian Proctor, who had twice applied to become an astronaut through NASA but was not selected. His father had worked for NASA supporting the Apollo missions. Chris Sembroski, father and husband, was chosen among the donors to St. Jude. Hayley Arceneaux is a childhood cancer survivor who received treatment at St. Jude’s, only to return as a physician’s assistant. She was the youngest crew member and represented Hope.
The Inspiration4 was unique not only in that the crew was entirely civilian, but also in its destination. The mission went well above the Karman Line, past the height of the International Space Station, and even further away from the Hubble Telescope. For three days, the crew admired the views and conducted science experiments before diving into the Atlantic Ocean in the Dragon capsule last night.
Billionaire space race
This summer has been the billionaire space race. In 10 weeks, three space tourism missions were launched by three distinct companies in a very distinct way. Richard Branson boarded his Virgin Galactic spacecraft and flew with a crew that included staff for a five-minute suborbital flight that included weightlessness and a departure and return home from New Mexico for the carrier.
Like Branson, Jeff Bezos flew on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket with his brother, an 18-year-old engineering student, and Wally Funk, a female NASA astronaut who was unable to fly with the agency during his mandate. Its mission also circled in low earth orbit before descending, with the rocket landing autonomously on the launch pad and the capsule shortly after, landing softly in the brush of West Texas.
Musk, founder and largest shareholder of SpaceX chose not to fly on Inspiration4 but still made history. The world’s most frequent rocket launcher (by far) not only carried civilians, but reached vastly higher and further than others.
In this three-horse space race, Branson was able to demonstrate an affordable means for a space experience. Bezos has shown that Blue Origin can be a real competitor against the much more active SpaceX, but it was only the latter that really proved that space tourism as we always thought it could be achieved.
Bringing space tourism back to Earth
When Dennis Tito became the first space tourist in 2001 aboard a Russian-made and launched rocket, it was obvious that such a trip was possible for the wealthy. On the surface, this remains the case today with the exception of the Virgin Galactic option, although the experience may differ from what space tourists prefer if given the choice.
However, this will not always be the case and it has become evident in the last few months. Private industry and competition among billionaires have already reduced the cost of delivering equipment and people to heaven.
Back in the days of the Space Shuttle, a launch cost between $ 576 million and $ 1.64 billion. Commercial space launches before SpaceX for a satellite cost $ 100 million, but with the use of reusable rockets, Musk has already reduced that cost to $ 60 million per launch to reach $ 10 million. This dramatic difference will help the private company begin Starship operations and ultimately deliver supplies and humans to the lunar surface in 2024-2025.
While $ 10 million for four people is still very expensive ($ 2.5 million / per person), the larger spacecraft will be able to spread that cost over more space tourists and freight to subsidize the cost of flights. Dennis Tito would have paid more than 10 times that price just 20 years ago. The goal of the whole industry is to make space travel:
They are on track to meet those goals and it would be a small step for billionaire rocket enthusiasts and a giant leap for space tourism.
Inspiration4 achieved its goals of piloting an all-civilian crew, bringing them back to earth, raising a substantial amount for St. Jude’s and inspiring the public. If you haven’t seen the Netflix series documenting the trip, I recommend that you watch it.
What do you think? Did Inspiration4 present a reliable option for future space tourism? Did you participate in the raffle? Would you have left if you had the chance?