One is a 29-year-old medical assistant living in Memphis, and a cancer survivor with a metal rod in her left leg to replace bone destroyed by a tumor.
Another is a 51-year-old community college professor from Phoenix who has failed to achieve his dream of becoming a NASA astronaut.
The third is a data engineer living in western Washington who served as a counselor at a camp for kids to taste what it’s like to be an astronaut.
The fourth, 38 years old, is a high school dropout who became the billionaire founder of a payment processing company. He is the one who is paying for a trip into space that has never been seen before, where no one on board is a professional astronaut.
The crew of four is expected to head to space together, launching from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday at 8:02 p.m. ET on a SpaceX rocket. They will orbit the planet in three days at an altitude above the International Space Station.
The mission, called Inspiration4, is also the first where the government as a whole is an outsider. It’s also far more ambitious and risky than the minutes-long journey to the edge of space by two super-rich business celebrities, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, in July.
The ride shows that a private citizen, at least one with a few hundred million dollars and a few months to spare, can now essentially rent a spaceship to circumnavigate 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 much lower than that of Mr Branson or Mr. Bezos.
While the two were traveling on a spaceship operated by the company they founded, Mr. Isaacman’s flight is being managed by SpaceX, the private company run by Elon Musk, another billionaire whose company is already established. success in the space business over the past decade, achieving what competitors say is unfeasible. while providing lower rates for space utilization.
A trip like Inspiration4 is still affordable for only the richest. But it is no longer impossible.
When he decided to spend a sizable portion of his fortune, Mr. Isaacman did not want to guide a few friends. Instead, he opened the door to three people he didn’t even know.
The result is a mission with a crew that is more representative of the wider society, says Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old physician assistant at St. Jude; Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old black community college professor; and Christopher Sembroski, a 42-year-old data engineer.
“We’ve been trained in all of these emergency procedures just like any other NASA crew in the past,” Sembroski said in an interview last week. It was the last day that he and his teammates stayed at their homes before heading to Florida for their debut.
“I think we are ready to go into space,” Mr. Sembroski said.
The various life stories of the Inspiration4 crew present a stark contrast to Mr Branson and Mr. Bezos, whose excursions are seen by many as the fun rides of billionaires.
“The world doesn’t see how that works for them,” said Timiebi Aganaba, a professor of space and society at Arizona State University. Mr. Bezos. “They said, ‘This is just a playground for the rich.'”
With his crew, Mr. Isaacman is working to achieve the goal of science fiction authors and space enthusiasts: open space to everyone, not just professional astronauts and rich space tourists.
“The difference with this flight is that we have three very ordinary people on board, and they will show us what it means to open this up,” Dr. Aganaba said.
Dr. Proctor, who learned to fly as part of NASA’s attempt to become an astronaut, showed Miss Arceneaux, a cancer survivor, who would become the first person to have a prosthetic leg. to travel into space. That expands people’s ideas of who can become an astronaut, she said.
“That’s one of the reasons why representation is so important,” said Dr Proctor, who will be the first black woman to pilot a spaceship. “And access issues.”
The mission also reflects the growing role of private businesses in space.
“It represents part of the transition in low Earth orbit to regional activities,” said John M. Logsdon, founder and former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. private sector, which NASA has been promoting for a number of years. “Because it involves people, it has high visibility. But in essence, it is just part of a larger movement.”
This mission uses the same Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule that SpaceX has developed to ferry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Indeed, the capsule that carried Mr. Isaacman and his teammates around the Earth was precisely the one, named Resilience, used for a NASA mission that launched last November. It then returned to Earth in May.
For Inspiration4, Mr. Isaacman named the four available seats in the spacecraft to represent the qualities he hopes the mission will represent: leadership, which is for him, and hope. , generosity and prosperity for his passengers.
When deciding to use the trip to raise money for St. Jude, which provides free cancer care for children, he asked the hospital to recommend a frontline health worker to represent hope. Hospital officials presented Ms. Arceneaux. The Benevolent Chair, which belonged to Mr. Sembroski, raised money for St. Jude through a lottery. Isaacman’s company Shift4 then ran a contest for business ideas, and Dr. Proctor won the prosperity chair by creating a store to sell themed artwork. the spatial theme she created.
But she noted that Mr. Isaacman had paid all the bills, including for a Super Bowl ad in February introducing the mission to the Americans.
Isaacman declined to say how much he had to pay, saying it was less than the $200 million he hopes will raise money for St. Jude.
Dr Aganaba said: “We are still very far from being able to go to space for ordinary people.
The four came to public attention as they prepared for the flight, including in a Netflix documentary, a Time magazine special and an Axios podcast.
In the Netflix documentary, Ms. Arceneaux invited friends over to watch the Super Bowl – a small gathering complete with a film crew. “I told my friends I had a really big secret,” she said.
Her friends thought she was going to be a contestant on “The Bachelor”. When the Inspiration4 commercial aired, “One of them said, jokingly, ‘Oh, you’re going into space?’ And that’s when I said, “Yes, I’m actually going into space.”
In March, the four began intensive training, which included spinning around a giant centrifuge in Pennsylvania to acquaint themselves with the crushing forces experienced during launch and landing. They flew on a plane that simulated the experience of free fall.
They also spent 30 straight hours in the Crew Dragon simulation at SpaceX, implementing contingency plans for countless emergencies.
Mr. Isaacman said: “At the beginning and throughout the whole thing, time passed very quickly. “We were like, we’ll do it again.”
They did it again, with another 10 hour simulation.
Ms. Arceneaux will serve as the flight’s medical officer and conduct some research on the crew during the flight. Dr. Proctor will serve as a pilot, although the spacecraft is largely self-flying. Mr. Sembroski as the mission specialist will have a range of responsibilities, while Mr. Isaacman is the flight commander.
It could be years before the launch of anything else like Inspiration4. The cost of seeing Earth from orbit will still be far beyond what most people can afford. And the effort carries high risks, with many observers citing the death of Christa McAuliffe, a teacher aboard the space shuttle Challenger when it disintegrated during launch in 1986. It was far from a flight. commercial airliner and resembles the orbital equivalent of the expansion of Mount Everest.
“I would argue that it is not really a market,” said Roger D. Launius, a private space historian who has worked at NASA and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “It’s basically a fun ride that everyone will take once in a while.”
However, the opportunity even being available is a big change.
For decades, astronauts were often government employees – people working for NASA or the Soviet space program who launched rockets operated by their own governments.
During the Obama administration, NASA decided to hire private companies to build spacecraft for trips to the space station. It chose Boeing and SpaceX for the job.
Capitalizing on an earlier space station cargo contract, SpaceX has captured a dominant market share in commercial satellite launches with its Falcon 9 rocket.
NASA hopes the federal investment in a similar Crew Dragon capsule could spur a larger market for sending humans to space. That path, however, remains uncertain. Currently, amateur astronauts fall into two groups: those with a lot of money and those in the entertainment business.
A Houston-based company, Axiom Space, slated to go live early next year, also uses SpaceX’s Resilience capsule. The mission will involve three people, each paying $55 million for a visit to the International Space Station lasting several days.
A Discovery Channel reality show, “Who Wants To Be An Astronaut?” is to offer a trip to the space station on a later Axiom mission as a reward.
The Russian space agency has also continued to sell seats on their Soyuz rockets for trips to the space station. In October, a Russian actress, Yulia Peresild, and Klim Shipenko, a filmmaker, were able to go to the space station to film scenes. They may be followed up a few months later by Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese fashion businessman.
Mr. Maezawa’s 12-day trip will be a prelude to a more ambitious circumnavigation of the Moon that he hopes to take over the next few years aboard the massive SpaceX Starship rocket currently under development. That trip, entitled Dear Moon, will probably be the closest to Inspiration4. A contest to select eight of his companions has attracted one million registrants, and Maezawa is currently screening the finalists.
Before the flight, the crew said during a press conference Tuesday at SpaceX’s hangar at Kennedy Space Center that they were confident and didn’t feel nervous before launch.
Dr Proctor said: “I was always worried that this moment would never come in my life so I was ready to go. “Let’s do it.”