First All-Commercial Crew Gets New Window on the World, Earlier Launch Date

First All-Commercial Crew Gets New Window on the World, Earlier Launch Date

The first spaceflight crew with no professional astronaut training is now complete. Jared Isaacman, the philanthropist underwriting the Inspiration4 mission, introduced the final two members of his four-person crew today and revealed their launch could come as soon as September 15, earlier than expected. At the same time SpaceX unwrapped a new feature of the Crew Dragon spacecraft they will fly — a large window for a better view.

Isaacman and SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk announced the Inspiration4 plans just two months ago.

SpaceX developed the Crew Dragon spacecraft under a public-private partnership with NASA. NASA purchases services from SpaceX to ferry crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS), but from the beginning the plan was for SpaceX (and Boeing, which is building its own system) to find other customers as well.

Isaacman is one of those customers. He is paying for the entire mission for four people and using it as a fund-raising mechanism for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Isaacman made his fortune developing an electronic payment system, Shift4Payments, for restaurants and hotels. Along the way he started flying and racing airplanes, which led to creating a company, Draken International, that acquired the largest commercial fleet of ex-military aircraft and now trains Air Force pilots. He bought a MIG-29 for himself, which he flies.

Calling the mission Inspiration4, he designated each of the four seats for one of the values he wants the mission to inspire: Leadership, Hope, Prosperity, and Generosity.

He is Leadership. He chose Haley Arceneaux for Hope.  At 10, she was a cancer patient at St. Jude and now is a physician’s assistant there.

The Prosperity seat was for someone who created a business website though Isaacman’s Shift4Shop, submitted a video explaining why they should get to fly in space, and selected by a group of four judges. Generosity was chosen by lottery from anyone who contributed to St. Jude through the Inspiration4 website.

Today, those two crew members were introduced by Isaacman and SpaceX Director of Crew Mission Management, Benji Reed.

Sian Proctor is Prosperity.  Chris Sembroski is Generosity.

Inspiration4 Crew (L-R): Jared Isaacman, Sian Proctor, Haley Arceneaux, Chris Sembroski.

Proctor describes herself as a scientist turned artist and an “analog astronaut” where people live in environments to simulate long-duration spaceflight. She has done four analog missions including NASA’s Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) Habitat to simulate a trip to Mars. She is a pilot, scuba diver, “and loves geoexploring our world.” Born in Guam while her father was working at a NASA tracking station there during the Apollo program, she has a B.S. in environmental science, an M.S. in geology, and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction: Science Education. She was a finalist in NASA’s 2009 astronaut selection.

While a U.S. Space Camp counselor, Sembroski conducted simulated space shuttle missions and supported STEM-based education.  He served in the Air Force maintaining a fleet of Minuteman III ICBMs and served in Iraq. After leaving the Air Force in 2007, he earned a B.S. in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Isaacman also has a degree from there). He now works for the aerospace industry in Seattle, although he did not specify what company.

The Generosity seat was chosen at random from those who contributed to St. Jude. Sembroski entered the contest, but revealed at today’s press conference that it actually was a friend of his who won. His friend could not accept for personal reasons, however, and gave him the ticket.

Crew Dragons are reusable and the spacecraft they will fly to space is Resilience, which delivered Crew-1 to ISS and is currently docked there.  That four-person crew (three NASA and one JAXA astronauts) will return to Earth next month and the spacecraft will be refurbished and made ready for this flight.

Inspiration4 will not dock at ISS.  It is a three-day free-flying mission that does not need to dock with anything so SpaceX is replacing the docking apparatus with a cupola — a large window that will give a better view of Earth and the cosmos.  SpaceX released an illustration showing its curved surface, which is exposed once the nosecone is opened.

Reed was asked if NASA had any input to the company’s decision to alter the spacecraft’s design. Reed replied the company is doing all the engineering work, analysis, testing and qualification to make certain it is safe and “doesn’t preclude any use of this spacecraft for other missions.”

“NASA has deep insight to everything we do for crew missions, from our factory to our launch vehicle, the Falcon, all the way through Dragon, all of our operations, everything we do NASA has deep insight. They’re great partners, and they have fleet-wide insight, too, which means they get to see what we’re doing and how we’re analyzing this cool window. So we’ll make sure they’re part of the plan and go from there.” – Benji Reed, SpaceX

The ISS has a comparatively large cupola that was provided by the European Space Agency (ESA). All the astronauts proclaim it is their favorite place to be, looking down at Earth.  The view will not be quite as grand from Crew Dragon, but should be pretty good.

NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson looking down at Earth through the cupola on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Although two of the Inspiration4 crew members are pilots, none have gone through the type of training experienced by professional astronauts from NASA or other space agencies. Quite a number of non-professional astronauts have flown on Soviet/Russian and U.S. spacecraft, but always accompanied by professionals.

Crew Dragon is automated, but some still question whether it would be better to have a professional along just in case.  Isaacman thinks not.

“That wasn’t what we were trying to achieve with this mission. We were trying to send a message that everyday people can now go and explore among the stars. But that doesn’t mean we’re going unprepared. … You don’t go up Everest right after just a hike in the back yard. … You do a lot of training climbs, you build up that experience and confidence. … We’re going to be training constantly. ” — Jared Isaacman

They have about six months.  Isaacman said the flight could take place as early as September 15.  When Musk and Isaacman announced the flight on February 1, they said only that it would take place by the end of the year, so this is sooner than many expected.

One pacing item will be the return of Crew-1 in Resilience and how long it takes to install the cupola in place of the docking adapter and otherwise get it ready for its next flight.

The next Crew Dragon for NASA, Crew-2, launching to ISS on April 22, is using the Endeavour spacecraft that took Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on their Demo-2 test flight last year.  Crew-2 includes two NASA astronauts and one each from ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).  NASA is hoping Boeing’s Starliner, the other commercial crew system, will complete testing and be available for operational flights by the end of the year so there are sufficient flights for its needs as well as for the companies’ other customers.  SpaceX has another purely commercial mission, AX-1 for Axiom Space, scheduled for January 2022.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon space transportation system is completely separate from its Starship system undergoing tests right now. Four attempts to launch and land Starship prototypes since December have failed, most recently this morning, but the company is already planning the next test flight within days.

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