When I was a kid, the promise that ‘common’ people would someday get to space was more of a science fiction idea. We knew that it was on the table, but we never really expected it would turn into reality. ‘Commercial’ flights were depicted in movies, but people never found them convincing enough. However, I was, and still am, somewhat of a dreamer, and somewhere deep inside me, I always kept that promise close to my heart, where many of my motivations and ambitions come from.

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The second space age is hereImage: AlenKadr/Adobe Stock

SpaceX sparked my imagination when I first heard about it, and Elon Musk was a fantastic source of inspiration for what is to come. Then, as I grew older, things started to shape up, and we began hearing promises of Mars adventures, while commercial flights seemed to be put off for a while. I knew I would never be an ‘astronaut’ in the profound sense of the actual job because of my aspirations as a researcher and teacher rather than a professional pilot. Still, I always dreamt of reaching space during my lifetime. 

Now, more than ever before, this thing has been achieved. ‘Civilians,’ or more accurately, an ‘all civilian’ crew has not only reached space but also stayed there for three days. Inspiration4 is the name of the mission, and rightly so, as it inspired everyone with its amazing achievement. For all of the crew members, it was the first flight ever. 

The crew

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The crew of Inspiration4: (From L to R – Hayley Arceneaux, Christopher Sembroski, Jared Isaacman, and Sian Proctor) | Image Courtesy: Time

To be fair, the ‘civilians’ weren’t all of them ‘civilians,’ with no prior experience in some technical field. Jared Isaacman, the crew commander, has received a bachelor’s degree in professional aeronautics, and he is experienced with military jet aircraft. He has quite an impressive experience in flying than a ‘civilian,’ which added up to his qualities. Isaacman was also the main ‘contributor’ to the flight, as he is a billionaire, and SpaceX was the means to make the trip happen. He booked four seats and set a humanitarian goal for his mission: raising money for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

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Sian Proctor was the pilot of the mission, and she is a geology professor. She was a finalist in the 2009 NASA astronaut selection, one of the 47 candidates out of 3500 selected. She holds a Ph.D. in Science Education, received in 2006.

Hayley Arceneaux is the youngest American ever to fly into space, at only 29 years old. This is not the only amazing achievement of hers, being probably the only survivor of bone cancer to go up there, and for sure the only human being to travel up there with a prosthetic limb. She is a physician assistant at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Finally, Christopher Sembroski is a data engineer and an Air Force veteran and flew as a mission specialist in the Inspiration4 crew. In his free time, when not working for Lockheed Martin, he promotes science everywhere around him. 

The mission, and an adventurous target

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Besides providing the actual rocket, SpaceX also provided training for the crew. Back to the actual rocket, Inspiration4 lifted off with a Falcon 9 rocket, maybe the safest and well-known of SpaceX’s rocket models. Resilience, their module, was their home for almost three days (2 days and 23 hours, to be exact), and the mission was not planned to dock on the ISS.

However, Inspiration4 had a more particular purpose: to break the numbers for the orbital altitude we have been used to lately: the altitude got to 585 km above the surface. The only other launches to reach that distance were 10 Apollo launches, which went beyond Earth’s orbit. So basically, the farthest mission in space after 1972 was completed by rookies. 

What’s next for the future of space travel?

As you might have guessed, I am a huge supporter of this cause, and I think it can get a lot better than it is now. 

Five more trips are reportedly already booked for SpaceX, and their crews will be flying in the following months or years (not too many, you figured that out). However, not so unknown is the case of Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire also known for his interest in art and an avid art collector. In 2018, he booked a trip around the Moon with SpaceX, which will probably be possible after finishing Starship, Musk’s newest and strongest rocket. The launch will take place no earlier than 2023, but for the moment, Maezawa is focused on his 2021 flight in December to the ISS.

Who knows, maybe in 10 years we will be visiting Maezawa’s recently finished hotel on the Moon, and if not, I wouldn’t mind installing a tent there. 

‘Welcome to the second space age,’ were the words of Todd Ericson, mission director of Inspiration4.

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