News & Politics

Splashdown! All-Amateur Space Crew Returns Safely to Earth

(Image: @inspiration4x Twitter Screenshot)

History will note that on September 19, in the year of our Lord 2021 (not sorry for offending atheist readers), four human beings returned home after a nearly routine journey to space. What made the journey more than routine was that none of the four humans were professional astronauts. The flight was privately funded and launched by the public/private space venture, SpaceX.

Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old billionaire entrepreneur who paid for and organized the flight, is a noted pilot but not trained in the workings of the Dragon 9 space capsule. Others on the jaunt included mission pilot Sian Proctor, 51; a college professor from Arizona; a 42-year-old father of two from Arizona, Chris Sembroski; and a physician’s assistant, Hayley Arceneaux, who works at St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Arceneaux is a childhood bone cancer survivor who was treated and cured at St. Jude.

St. Jude is the real beneficiary of the flight, as Isaacman raised money to bring awareness and research funds to the facility. To date, the flight has raised more than the $200 million goal, with Isaacman pledging $100 million originally, and Elon Musk “throwing in” another $50 million after the successful conclusion of the flight.

Sembrowski entered a lottery for one of the seats. He didn’t win, but a friend did and gave him the seat. The lottery raised $13 million.

The mission itself may have been historic, but was uneventful.

Washington Post:

During its three days in orbit, the Inspiration4 crew — which included the mission pilot, Sian Proctor, 51, a college professor from Arizona; Chris Sembroski, a 42-year-old father of two from Everett, Wash.; and Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old from Memphis who works as a physician assistant — virtually rang the bell of the New York Stock Exchange (virtually), and spoke to patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, one of whom asked if there any cows on the “moooooon.” They also spoke with actor Tom Cruise, who has been in talks to fly on a later SpaceX flight to the International Space Station, as well as U2’s Bono.

In an interview with CBS News, Scott “Kidd” Poteet, SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission director, said there was a “minor waste management issue that the crew and mission control were required to troubleshoot. But honestly, this did not impact the mission.”

Poteet was quoted as saying, “Welcome to the Second Space Age,” which isn’t entirely accurate. This is not Space Age 2.0 — it’s more like Space Age 1.5. Getting civilians into space is only half the equation. The private exploitation of space — a process that will expand economic and scientific opportunities — will need a lot more billionaires and several trillion dollars of private money before a truly “private” space venture will begin to pay dividends, both economically and scientifically.

But it can be done. SpaceX and Elon Musk have shown us how.