by Alexander Xia (’24) | October 11, 2021
On September 15, SpaceX sent out a mission called Inspiration 4 on its Crew Dragon capsule. The capsule spent 72 hours in orbit before landing off the coast of Florida. The first time a human orbited the Earth was 1961, more than 60 years ago. Since then, we have been to the moon, constructed the International Space Station, and much more. However, what makes this mission unique is that the Inspiration 4 is the first space mission that was entirely crewed by non-astronaut tourists.
The four-person crew includes Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old billionaire who financed the trip. Along with him is Hayley Arceneux, a childhood cancer survivor who is a physician’s assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The last two people were determined by a lottery, and included Sian Proctor, a geologist, and Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran. The trip was used as a fundraiser for St. Jude, with a goal of raising $200 million. The fundraiser hit its mark after a $50 million donation from Elon Musk.
Although it may seem like the possibility of affordable space travel is extremely near, there is still quite a ways to go. A NASA report estimates that one seat on the Crew Dragon costs around $55 million, which would mean over $200 million for the entire trip. However, in an interview, Isaacman said that “it cost less than $200 million.” Isaacman refused to give any further information. Currently, people are debating whether Isaacman’s mission is a good decision or not: while it is a monumental step in expanding access to space travel, others fear that space will simply become, as CNN puts it, “a playground for billionaires.” There is also the concern that we should be spending millions of dollars on bettering the world instead of sending billionaires to space.
So, what does this mean for the future of space travel? Although this trip may sound revolutionary, it is not the first time non-astronauts have been to space. Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin sent their CEOs, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos respectively, on short jaunts to space. However, this is the first time that non-astronauts have spent a long period of time in space. This sets a precedent for trips to space that are less for science and more for other motives like leisure.
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