In ten days, SpaceX and the payment processing company Shift4Payments will be making history as four commercial astronauts board the Crew Dragon Resilience and fly to space. This mission, known as Inspiration4, will be the first all-civilian flight in history, the purpose of which will be to raise awareness, funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and inspire the next generation to seek out education and employment in the STEM fields.
In preparation for this moment in spaceflight history, the four-person crew got a chance to see a key piece of hardware that will make the mission special. This was the Crew Dragon cupola, a domed glass window that replaced the usual docking adapter on the front of the spacecraft. Before it was shipped off to Florida to be integrated with the rest of the spacecraft, the crew got a chance to peer through the dome and imagine what it will be like to do so in space!
This event, shared via Twitter, took place at the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, this past Wednesday (Sept. 1st). One by one, the four-member crew got a chance to pose inside the cupola as part of a campaign to raise awareness about the first all-civilian flight. This mission will not only be a milestone in spaceflight. It also illustrates how commercial spaceflight and public-private partnerships are making space more accessible and beneficial.
A look at Dragon’s Cupola, which will provide our Inspiration4 astronauts with incredible views of Earth from orbit!
The crew visited the flight-hardware Cupola in California before it was shipped to Florida for integration with Dragon Resilience. pic.twitter.com/9ivMZrS1ip
— Inspiration4 (@inspiration4x) September 1, 2021
This mission is named in recognition of the four-person crew that will go to space to raise awareness and funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They include Mission Commander Jared Isaacman, Mission Pilot Dr. Sian Proctor, Medical Officer Hayley Arceneaux, and Mission Specialist Chris Sembroski. Each person was carefully selected based on the skills and experience they bring to the mission and represent a specific part of the overall theme.
- Jared Isaacman: a former member of the Black Diamond Jet Team, philanthropist, founder of the world’s largest private air force training program (Draken International), and founder/CEO of Shift4 Payments (Inspiration4’s sponsor), Isaacman is the Benefactor of this mission.
- Dr. Sian Proctor: a professor of geoscience, science communication specialist, analog astronaut (HI-SEAS), commercial astronaut, founder of Space2Inspire, and space advocate with a history of family service with NASA, Dr. Proctor embodies the spirit of Prosperity for this mission.
- Hayley Arceneaux: having survived cancer at a young age, Arceneaux went on to become a Physicians Assistant (PA) at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (the very place where she recieved her treatment). She embodies the spirit of Hope for this mission.
- Chris Sembroski: an aeronautical engineer, an officer with the US Air Force (retired), a former U.S. Space Camp counselor, and current STEM advocate, Sembroski has always aspired to share his passion for space with others and embodies the spirit of Generosity on this mission.
Once the crew selection process was complete, and the winners announced in March of 2021, the four-member crew began the six-month training process in preparation for spaceflight. This included parabolic flights (aka. zero-g flights) to accustom them to the feeling of being weightless, altitude training (climbing Mount Ranier), centrifuge training, Dragon simulations, observations of other launch operations, and additional classroom, simulation, and medical testing.
The Inspiration4 crew (left to right), Chris Sembroski, Dr. Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman, and Hayley Arceneaux. Credit: Inspiration4
The crew members are scheduled to arrive in Florida on Thursday, Sept. 9th, to commence final preparations for their mission. The launch will take place from the Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A, where the Apollo and Space Shuttle missions also launched. The spacecraft in question, Resilience, is also historic since it was this vehicle that was used for the NASA-SpaceX Crew-1 mission, the first spaceflight to launch from American soil since 2011.
On Sept. 3rd, teams from SpaceX and the Inspiration4 mission met at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, to conduct a Flight Readiness Review of Resilience, the Falcon 9 rocket that will launch it to orbit, the ground systems, recovery assets, the results of the astronaut training, and other key mission elements. After concluding that everything was good to go, a launch date was set for Wednesday, Sept. 14th, with a backup launch date for Thursday, Sept. 15th.
Currently, both launches are scheduled to lift off by 12:00 AM UTC (05:00 PM PDT; 08:00 PM EDT). Three days before launch, SpaceX will narrow that down to five hours based on conditions at the launch site, along the ascent corridor, and at the landing locations where the crew is expected to splash down off the coast of Florida. In addition to the four-person crew, Resilience will also carry scientific equipment dedicated to micro-gravity research and experimentation.
The build-up and actual mission will also be the subject of a docuseries titled Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space, which Netflix produced in partnership with Time Warner. The first episode of this “semi-live” series airs tomorrow, Monday, Sept 6th, and will run until Sept. 30th. The schedule for this five-part docuseries was recently shared via Twitter, as was the latest trailer (see below).
The first two episodes (both airing on Sept. 6th) will introduce audiences to the four commercial astronauts going into space. On Sept. 13th, the third and fourth episodes will show how the crew spent the past six months training for the mission. The series will then branch into a semi-live event on Sept. 15th as the launch of Inspiration4 will be live-broadcasted on Netflix’s YouTube channel.
In the fifth and final episode (on Sept. 30th), viewers will be treated to what the astronauts saw as they orbited Earth for three days before splashing down in the Atlantic. In addition to footage taken from inside the Resilience spacecraft, a camera mounted to the spacecraft’s exterior will also show what it was like for the four-person crew to look through the cupola and see the deepness of space and planet Earth from orbit.
For more information and to read up on the people who will be accomplishing this milestone in spaceflight, be sure to check out the mission website. To learn more about how you can support vital cancer research or get involved, check out the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital website. And if you haven’t already, you might want to bookmark the series on your Netflix account. Be sure to check out the new trailer, too (posted above)!
Further Reading: Inspiration4