The first mission in space with non-professional astronauts has begun

The first mission in space with non-professional astronauts has begun

Departure at 2 am in Italy. Until 19 September the crew will conduct scientific experiments in orbit. But the mission is also a great marketing operation

The crew of the Inspiration4 mission, launched from Cape Canaveral on September 16 (photo: Inspiration4 Photos) Inspiration4 has started. The first orbital mission with a crew of non-professional astronauts detached from ramp 39A of the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, when in Italy it was 2:02 am on Thursday 16 September. A little more than 12 minutes later, he reached his operational altitude, 575 kilometers from the Earth's surface - 175 kilometers beyond the International Space Station - where man did not arrive from the Space Shuttle Sts 125 mission, in 2009.

In orbit, aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon Resilience - Elon Musk's space company that, in addition to the launch, took care of the crew training, which lasted six months - the commander and financier of Inspiration4, Jared Isaacman, together with Hayley Arceneaux, Chris "Hanks" Sembroski and Sian "Leo" Proctor, will stay for three days, with the aim of carrying out scientific experiments and studying the behavior of the human body in conditions of microgravity: they are the first four civilians to orbit the Earth without belong to any astronautical corps or governmental body. Their return is scheduled for September 19, with a ditching, in splashdown jargon, off the coast of Florida in the late Italian afternoon.

The peculiarities of the mission

Historical record aside, there are many peculiarities for which the mission will enter the annals and not only those of astronautics. As already written in Wired, Inspiration4 will have a strong symbolic value: Isaacman designed it to support St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, specializing in pediatric oncology, "and send a humanitarian message of possibility. It is a testament to the endless opportunities ahead as St. Jude works to end childhood cancer and life-threatening diseases ”.

Thirty-eight, with a personal fortune of $ 1.5 billion, CEO of the online payment company Shift4 and founder of Draken International, the largest private airline specializing in military pilot training, Isaacman has started approaching space in 2008, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, where he went to witness the launch of tourist Richard Garriott. A short time later he contacted SpaceX with the idea of ​​buying a ticket for a flight. According to unofficial sources, the agreement was concluded in 2009, ten years before the launch of the astronauts on the Crew Dragon, the capsule that from May 2020 allows a regular "space taxi" service from the United States to the Iss.

(photo: John Kraus / Inspiration4 Photos) Over the years, Isaacman has developed the idea of ​​buying an entire shuttle and exploiting the communicative appeal of the event to raise funds to donate to St Jude. Although the price paid to SpaceX was not disclosed, the four tickets are unlikely to have cost less than $ 200 million. It is the same amount that the entrepreneur aims to raise through an auction in support of Inspiration4 and then donate it to the hospital in Memphis, to which he has already personally donated 100 million. At the time of launch, the auction, which is still available to participate through the official website, had raised more than $ 30 million. 225,000 were added just during tonight's live link.

Spatial communication

The genesis and development of Inspiration4 mark other firsts. The mission was announced by a 30-second commercial during Super Bowl 2021. On that occasion, Isaacman specified the criteria that would guide the choice of crew members: a seat would be assigned to an employee of the St. Jude , another excerpt from those who had made donations (of any size) to the hospital and the last one would go to the best project for the creation of an online store with the Shift4Payment software.

If one day we will live in a world where everyone can go out and travel among the stars, in the meantime we should beat cancer

(Jared Isaacman)

The most significant result was the involvement of Arceneaux on board the Resilience : suffering from osteosarcoma at the age of 10, she was hospitalized and cured at St. Jude, where she now works as a medical assistant with patients suffering from leukemia or lymphoma. At 29, Arceneaux is the first person to fly into space with a prosthesis, an artificial left femur that replaces the bone lost due to the disease. In the next 72 hours, she will coordinate most of the medical experiments to which Sembroski, the winner of the charity auction, and Proctor, the fourth person of African-American origins to go into space, chosen for the best project of the store, will undergo. digital. The measurements provided for the experiments will be made using instruments available on the consumer market, such as the Apple Watch and the Butterfly iQ +, used for ultrasound scans.

NASA astronauts were almost perfect gods. I will go to space and I am not perfect

(Hayley Arceneaux)

It is yet another element capable of testifying how much philanthropy and marketing, the idea of ​​accessibility, converge in the mission conceived by Isaacman of space that has never been so explicit and a non-negligible return of image. It is no coincidence that Inspiration4 was also an opportunity to make the first documentary in (almost) real time about a space flight: made by Time magazine with the production studio Known, directed by Jason Herir (the author of The Last Dance) and titled Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space, the film is available from 6 September in five episodes on Netflix, which for the occasion also hosted the live broadcast of the launch. Another first time ever.

With Inspiration4 we hope to inspire people to travel to space

(Elon Musk)

The summer of space

In a summer that will be remembered as that of the space billionaires heading to the ends of the sky on their own vehicles, Inspiration4 is the most significant mission.

First of all because its crew will not be limited, as instead done by Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos, to jump over 80 kilometers of altitude to go back immediately. It is a combination that will remain valid even when Virtute 1 starts, the first scientific mission announced by Virgin Galactic, which once the temporary block imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration has been overcome should allow 12 experiments in microgravity to the three Italians on board: the colonel of the Air Force Walter Villadei, Lieutenant Colonel Angelo Landolfi and the engineer of the National Research Center (Cnr) Pantaleone Carlucci.

Above all, however, Inspiration4 is the first mission to communicate, not only to professionals, the process of progressive accessibility to Space, which has been characterizing space in recent years.

Far from believing uncritically to those who, like Branson, Bezos or Musk, believe that a tour beyond the atmosphere will sooner or later reach of anyone - so much so that after Virgin Galactic's demonstration flight on July 11, its ticket prices doubled, reaching 450,000 dollars - and without underestimating the many criticisms raised by the environmental impact of the increasing number of launches, Inspiration4 already demonstrates how space activities can be inclusive.

The details of the "Paraastronaut Project" promoted by the European Space Agency in the last call for recruitment for astronauts (image: Esa) An urgent emphasis, that of the extension of the extra-atmospheric to the collective contribution, which not surprisingly animated the recent call for recruitment for astronauts of the European Space Agency, promoter of the Para-Astronaut Project and is also the thematic core of The Astronauts series, launched today in Italy on Nickelodeon (from 8 pm). Produced by Ron Howard, the ten episodes seem to suggest, to the new generations, the next extra-planetary horizons to reach and, above all, with what awareness to reach them (in the series gender diversity, racial discrimination and wealth dissolve, literally, in the void in which a crew of teenagers is thrown by mistake).

However, it is what Inspiration4 evokes to make it a memorable undertaking: the commercial exploitation of the orbits closest to the earth, their use for scientific and technological purposes. The crew of civilians currently floating 575 kilometers above our head reiterates that space will be humanity's next frontier, certainly not because so many will allow ourselves a trip beyond the sky, but because the orbits around our planet will soon they will become the scope of a trade unthinkable until a few years ago, they will allow the exploitation of extra-atmospheric resources for scientific and technological purposes, as well as the relocation of industrial chains which, in orbit, will see costs and process pollution reduced productive. These are the goals of the new space race and its moneyed competitors.

The Inspiration4 crew just before boarding the "Resilience" and preparing for launch (Photo: SpaceX / Inspiration4 Photos) Rhetoric? Far from it. Already today, if we did not exploit the space, we would not be able to provide innovative services to agriculture (precision farming), infrastructure monitoring, observation of climate change and its effects. Without our orbiting infrastructures we would not even have been able to watch live and in high definition the medals of Marcell Jacobs and Gianmarco Tamberi, or the magical nights at the European Championships. Away from the science fiction idyll, the one indicated by Inspiration4 is not a path without risks, accidents and the possibility of conflict, as already demonstrated by the conflicting geopolitical interests that are paving it, but it is the most effective way to improve everyone's life, here , on Earth.

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