Space Tourism: SpaceX Inspiration4 Mission Will Send 4 Civilians With Minimal Training Into Orbit

Four people – none of them trained astronauts – are scheduled to launch into orbit aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule on September 15, 2021. Credit: NASA Johnson

On September 15, 2021, the next batch of space tourists is set to lift off aboard a SpaceX rocket. Organized and funded by entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, the Inspiration4 mission touts itself as “the first all-civilian mission to orbit” and represents a new type of space tourism.

The four crew members will not be the first space tourists this year. In the past few months, the world witnessed billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos launching themselves and a lucky few others into space on brief suborbital trips. While there are similarities between those launches and Inspiration4 — the mission is being paid for by one billionaire and is using a rocket built by another, Elon Musk — the differences are noteworthy. From my perspective as a space policy expert, the mission’s emphasis on public involvement and the fact that Inspiration4 will send regular people into orbit for three days make it a milestone in space tourism.

The four crew members of the Inspiration4 mission include a physician assistant, a data engineer, a geoscientist and billionaire Jared Isaacman, left. Credit: Inspiration4/John Kraus

Why Inspiration4 is different

The biggest difference between Inspiration4 and the flights performed earlier this year is the destination.

Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic took – and in the future, will take – their passengers on suborbital launches. Their vehicles only go high enough to reach the beginning of space before returning to the ground a few minutes later. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and crew Dragon vehicle, however, are powerful enough to take the Inspiration4 crew all the way into orbit, where they will circle the Earth for three days.

The four-person crew is also quite different from the other launches. Led by Isaacman, the mission features a somewhat diverse group of people. One crew member, Sian Proctor, won a contest among people who use Isaacman’s online payment company. Another unique aspect of the mission is that one of its goals is to raise awareness of and funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. As such, Isaacman selected Hayley Arceneaux, a physician’s assistant at St. Jude and childhood cancer survivor, to participate in the launch. The final member, Christopher Sembroski, won his seat when his friend was chosen in a charity raffle for St. Jude and offered his seat to Sembroski.

Because none of the four participants has any prior formal astronaut training, the flight has been called the first “all civilian” space mission. While the rocket and crew capsule are both fully automated – no one on board will need to control any part of the launch or landing – the four members still needed to go through much more training than the people on the suborbital flights. In less than six months, the crew has undergone hours of simulator training, lessons in flying a jet aircraft and spent time in a centrifuge to prepare them for the G-forces of launch.

Social outreach has also been an important aspect of the mission. While Bezos’ and Branson’s flights brought on criticism of billionaire playboys in space, Inspiration4 has tried – with mixed results – to make space tourism more relatable. The crew recently appeared on the cover of Time magazine and is the subject of an ongoing Netflix documentary.

There have also been other fundraising events for St. Jude, including a 4-mile virtual run and the planned auction of beer hops that will be flown on the mission.

The Inspiration4 mission is a step toward giving more people access to views like this – the aurora borealis seen from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

The future of space tourism?

Sending a crew of amateur astronauts into orbit is a significant step in the development of space tourism. However, despite the more inclusive feel of the mission, there are still serious barriers to overcome before average people can go to space.

For one, the cost remains quite high. Though three of the four are not rich, Isaacman is a billionaire and paid an estimated $200 million to fund the trip. The need to train for a mission like this also means that prospective passengers must be able to devote significant amounts of time to prepare – time that many ordinary people don’t have.

Finally, space remains a dangerous place, and there will never be a way to fully remove the danger of launching people – whether untrained civilians or seasoned professional astronauts – into space.

Despite these limitations, orbital space tourism is coming. For SpaceX, Inspiration4 is an important proof of concept that they hope will further demonstrate the safety and reliability of their autonomous rocket and capsule systems. Indeed, SpaceX has several tourist missions planned in the next few months, even though the company isn’t focused on space tourism. Some will even includes stops at the International Space Station.

Even as space remains out of reach for most on Earth, Inspiration4 is an example of how billionaire space barons’ efforts to include more people on their journeys can give an otherwise exclusive activity a wider public appeal.

Written by Wendy Whitman Cobb, Professor of Strategy and Security Studies, US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies.

This article was first published in The Conversation.

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  • Alex

    I OBJECT to the use of MY near-Earth Space for the purposes of BLOWHARD Billionaires playing at “LOOK AT ME-EE” One-upMANship. Some minds, and a UNIVERSE empty of all Life, save the volatile Human minds inhabiting Earth, seems like an AWFUL (as opposed to Awe-full) WASTE OF SPACE. If one wants something “constructive” to do, figure out how we are going to LIFT coastal cities up on STILTS, instead of glorifying stilted egotists with self-aggrandizing MISSIONS. It is later than anyone thinks. Maybe “we” WILL put 10 people on Mars. It will give “the rest of us” something to think about while we are wading through hip-deep seawater along the streets of Philadelphia.
    Settle back. Stir up another glass of TANG® and launch that Estes Rocket into the VOID where the Sun don’t shine.
    🦋

  • John Donohue

    “SpaceX […] isn’t focused on space tourism.”

    That’s because Elon would consider that a trivial name for it. He is focused on sending a million ordinary people to Mars by 2050 as the start of making Homo Sapiens interplanetary.

    Under the shock and awe of that vision, “space tourism” is blink of a short-sighted eye.

    • Dave Neve

      You are so naive. Destroying our planet to send the rich to another planet on which they cannot freely live.
      Maybe they could stay for a week or so in a “space station hotel” so this would be yet another reason for them (besides their multiple homes, yachts and private planes) to make even more money to pay for their space holiday, thus taking even more money away from the poor and needy.

  • souler-system-resident

    I want to know what operating system the computer displays are running off of. And I want to see someone make a video about the following scenario: they’re up there in space all excited and pushing buttons on their computer screens like happy little kids. Then there is a little power disruption, and the screens blink and then BSoD!! And the commander says, “Ok Ok don’t panic. We just need to reboot the system. Now where is the on/off switch?” And the other astronut says “Umm, it was one of those big red buttons on the screen on the left”. Then all of them look at each other and then in unison, 3, 2, 1, “HEELLPPP!!!!” And then a shot of them drifting away into space …

  • Pigsfly

    I don’t see him as a noble soul for his support of St. Judes. Rather he is using sick kids to justify this massive waste of money. If he cared, he would donate that 200 million to St Judes. As he structures this, it is the donors to St. Judes that result from this nonsense that are indirectly subsidizing his ego trip. Here’s a suggestion -donate the 200 million to the hospital, along with a request for donations to help support his rocket ship ride.

  • Commander Cody

    To those who can’t relate…. ITS NOT YOUR MONEY BEING SPENT. Just look at yourself in the mirror and ask, did I need to spend 30K plus on that car I bought ( just to go back and forth to work ), or the 60K on the kitchen remodel ( because it was “Dated “)? How much credit debt do you have, is that someone else’s fault? What someone else does with his or her money is no concern of yours. Ask yourself what did “I” do to fix the problems you are putting off on someone else. You don’t want to be flooded out in Phily MOVE. You see something happening and want someone else to fix it. Take responsibility for yourself and your actions, don’t blame others.
    The future is coming get on board or get the hell out of the way.

  • Dave Neve

    While many of us on Earth are trying to reduce our carbon footprint and save the planet, the rich are like Big Foot when it comes to their carbon footprint.

  • Jason Wim Maaskant

    @Pigsfly if you donated $200 million to St Jude’s $195 million of that would be used to pay the executives.

  • John Jakson

    In the Titanic movie where the musicians keep up the jolly good attitude of playing violins while their feet are getting wet and the mean guy (Billy Zane) is still looking for his diamond.

    So this tourism thing is just insultingly bad propaganda for spaceex and all the muskevites out there.

  • Death to Scum!

    Commander Cody is a louse. The future is bleak. I look forward to the first tragedy. F*ck these parasites!