September 18 marked the safe arrival of the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission on Floria’s coast, and with it, man became one step closer to unraveling the space’s mystery. A dream that perhaps long plagued the minds of almost everyone just became reality. After all, who among us doesn’t dream of reaching for the stars? Yet as these tales of success unfold before the world, the stars feel further away than ever. The distance is no longer one based on physics but the scale of capitalism. No longer is it based on merit, hard work, and the benefit of all as the old tales foretold but on the very same thing shackling millions around the globe. But does it have to be?
Make no mistake, what SpaceX Inspiration4 mission is nothing less than extraordinary. For the very first time in human history, four space tourists completed a three-day mission in Earth’s orbit with no professional astronauts on board. The spacecraft was supplied by Elon Musks’ private rocketry company, SpaceX, which launched it from Florida and flew it from the company headquarters in Los Angeles.
“That was a heck of a ride for us, and we’re just getting started,” said billionaire businessman, Jared Isaacman.
Yet, despite these feet or perhaps because of it, space seems a less hopeful place even with all of its vastness. The trip was only possible because Jared Isaacman paid an undisclosed sum for all of the four seats on the mission. Thus, with the power of green, Isaacman became an astronaut.
However, the same green papers also gave three others the same opportunity. Isaacman brought geoscientist and former NASA astronaut candidate Sian Proctor, physician’s assistant and cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux, and aerospace data engineer and air force veteran Chris Sembroski along for the ride.
A new era of commercial space
“This is fascinating because it is a commercial mission on a commercial vehicle. It’s not going to a destination, none of the participants are government astronauts, nor have they been government astronauts,” says industry analyst Carissa Christensen, founder of BryceTech. “It really is a new phenomenon.”
In a way, the success of this flight is opening space for more people to realize their space fantasy. Yet, the bar is still as high as ever. It’s simply the gatekeepers who are changing. This mission’s commander is a billionaire who chartered the SpaceX vehicle. As for the rest of the seats, one Chris Sembroski was chosen by lottery, and the other, Sian Proctor, was an internet contest winner.
“It’s putting a lot of this into the hands of the billionaires and millionaires of the world, who can afford either to fly on these flights or to give seats away on flights that they’ve chartered,” says space historian Matt Shindell of Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. “I think the real test is going to be what happens next.”
Isaacman made his fortune by founding a payment processing company back in 2005. Not only does his company handle more than $200 billion per year, but he is also an accomplished pilot and the co-founder of Draken International, a company that is responsible for the world’s largest private fleet of fighter jets.
When he first announced the trip back in October, Isaacman emphasized that the trip wouldn’t be a voyage for his friends and family. Instead, the remaining 3 commissioned seats would be filled in a semi-random fashion. He also announced that the mission serves to double as a fundraising campaign for St. Jude. Then, he dubbed the three seats Hope, Generosity, and Prosperity.
To fill the hope seat, St. Jude staff chose Arceneaux, a former cancer patient as well as a fellow physician employee. Thus, Arceneaux became the mission’s medical officer.
To fill the Generosity seat, a random lottery took place for the people donating to St. Jude. Though Sembroski entered the raffle, he didn’t win. But he became the generosity seat holder when his friend gave him the ticket after winning it.
To fill the Prosperity seat, an online competition took place with the requirement of opening a Shift4 Shop and making a short video that detailed the contestant’s reason for wanting to go to space, as well as their would-be value to the mission. Thus, Proctor won the last seat and realized her dream.