Another is a 51-year-old community college professor from Phoenix who fell just short of achieving her dream of becoming a NASA astronaut. The third is a data engineer living in western Washington who was once a counsellor at a camp that offered kids a taste of what it’s like to be an astronaut. The fourth, 38, is a high school dropout who became a billionaire founder of a payments processing company. He is the one that is paying for a trip into space the likes of which have never been seen before, where no one aboard is a professional astronaut.
This crew of four was scheduled to head to space together, launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday at 8:02 p.m. Eastern time in a SpaceX rocket. They will orbit the planet for three days at an altitude higher than the International Space Station. The mission, known as Inspiration4, is also the first where government is, by and large, a bystander. It’s also far more ambitious and risky than the minutes-long jaunts to the edge of space completed by two ultra-rich business celebrities, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, in July. The trip shows that a private citizen, at least someone with a couple hundred million dollars and a few months to spare, is now able to essentially rent a spacecraft to circle the planet.
In this case, it’s Jared Isaacman, founder of Shift4 Payments, a company that processes payments for restaurants and other businesses. His public profile is far lower than that of Branson or Bezos. While the two travelled in spacecraft operated by companies they founded, Isaacman’s flight is being managed by SpaceX, the private company run by Elon Musk, another billionaire whose firm upended the space business in the past decade, achieving what competitors had thought infeasible while offering lower prices for getting to space.
A trip like Inspiration4 is still affordable to only to the richest of the rich. But it is no longer impossible. In deciding to spend a sizable slice of his fortune, Isaacman did not want to just bring along some friends. Instead, he opened opportunities to three people he did not know. The result is a mission with a crew that is more representative of wider society — Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old Black community college professor; and, Christopher Sembroski, a 42-year-old data engineer.
“We’ve been receiving all the same training for all these emergency procedures as any other NASA astronaut crew has in the past,” Sembroski said during an interview last week. It was the last day that he and his crewmates spent at their homes before going to Florida for the launch. “I think we are more than ready to go to head off into space,” Sembroski said. The varied life stories of the Inspiration4 crew present a marked contrast with Branson and Bezos, whose excursions were seen by many as joy rides for billionaires.
“The world did not see how it benefits them,” Timiebi Aganaba, a professor of space and society at Arizona State University, said of the Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin flights of Branson and Bezos. “They were like, ‘This is just a playground for the rich.’”With his crew of everypersons, Isaacman is endeavouring to achieve a goal of science fiction authors and space enthusiasts: to open space to everyone, not just professional astronauts and wealthy space tourists.
Chang is a tech writer with NYT©2021