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Inspiration 4: Why is SpaceX’s first all-private mission such a significant event?

When the movie (2001: A Space Odyssey) was released in 1968, the dream of relaxing in a space hotel and sipping a drink while watching Earth swim in space didn’t seem so far away. This perception was reinforced in the early 1980s when the Space Shuttle Program heralded a future of frequent and regular flights into orbit. And in the 2000s, when tourists first climbed into space on paid flights, many people began wondering when they could also afford a trip to space.

We had countless dreams of a future in which ordinary people who were neither astronauts nor billions of dollars could travel to space. But despite all those moments of optimism, those dreams did not come true. For the most part, space travel has been the preserve of professional astronauts or very wealthy people.

However – and we’re whispering very cautiously here – that may be about to change, after last Wednesday at 8:02 pm EST, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida carrying a crew member. of four people, the same number that participated in The last two missions They were launched by the company owned by Elon Musk, which in themselves are considered historic landmarks. The main difference this time is that there are no trained astronauts among the passengers, they are ordinary citizens who launch aboard a special rocket made by a private company, without any NASA presence.

The mission known as Inspiration 4 has been hailed as a watershed moment for human spaceflight. This is the first entirely private mission to orbit, and American tech billionaire Jared Isaacman may have paid for the trip. Estimated at $200 million, which also aims to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

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Traveling with him are three non-billionaires: Hayley Arsenault, a physician assistant and cancer survivor, Chris Sembrowski of Lockheed Martin, whose friend won a contest for the seat and gave him the ticket, and Sian Proctor, a professor of earth sciences, who also won her place in the competition. . “These people represent humanity,” says Laura Wurzyk of the space consultancy Australasian. They are ambassadors.”

This wasn’t the first time that people who weren’t astronauts had traveled into space. From 2001 to 2009, seven people paid more than $30 million per seat to participate in flights to the International Space Station aboard Russian Soyuz rockets. More recently, in July of this year, billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos… Two short suborbital flights In space, they each lasted several minutes, aboard two spacecraft made by their companies.

However, people have never traveled into orbit without the help of their fortunes and without the oversight of a national space agency like NASA. “This is the first privately operated orbital spaceflight with all of its passengers as private citizens,” says Jonathan McDowell, a spaceflight expert from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Compared with [الرحلات] subtropical, it is much more ambitious.”

Instead of docking with the International Space Station like other SpaceX manned missions, the mission’s Crew Dragon spacecraft will remain in Earth orbit for three days in a self-propelled state. The crew will eat, drink, sleep and use the toilet within the range of their spacecraft, the Crew Dragon Resilience, which is nearly three times the interior size of a large car. To keep them occupied, the spacecraft’s docking port – which is normally used to connect it to the International Space Station – has been converted to glass dome, which provides the crew with a wonderful panoramic view of the Earth and the universe beyond.

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Other than that, the mission’s objectives are limited. There are some scientific experiments planned, but the most important aspect of the mission is what will not Happen or occur. Specifically, none of the crew members will directly drive the spacecraft, but rather it will be autonomously controlled with the help of a control center on the ground. McDowell explains that this is not a simple change, and that there are risks involved. “This is the first time that if automated systems don’t work, we could be in real trouble,” he says. This indicates the growing confidence in automated control software and systems that allow you to transport tourists unaccompanied.”

All these things combine to make the launch of Inspiration 4 an exciting moment in human spaceflight, albeit one that has been initially tried before. In the 1980s, NASA hoped to start something similar, the “Spaceparter” program, which was an attempt to allow various ordinary citizens to fly into space on the space shuttle. “There was a feeling that some of the astronauts were a bit conservative in their descriptions of the flights,” says Alan Ludwig, who led the programme. And NASA wanted people who could better convey the experience, so it chose a teacher, a journalist, and an artist.

However, the program came to a tragic end. Its first participant, Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from New Hampshire, was killed in the explosion of the space shuttle. Challenger 1986, in addition to the other six crew members. The program was canceled and the entire space shuttle program went into stagnation. After experts dreamed that it would fly hundreds of missions a year, only 110 more launches took place over the next 25 years, until shuttle flights were discontinued in 2011.

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For now, the majority of space travel will remain the preserve of professional astronauts or very wealthy people. If you’re not wealthy, your options are limited to applying for contests or hoping for a ticket from a wealthy benefactor, which may not bode well for the future of space travel to be as great as many imagined.

However, Inspiration 4 shows that there are opportunities for more “ordinary” people to go into space, albeit few and far between. It’s a milestone in the possibility of humans getting into space, says John Logsdon, a space historian and emeritus professor at the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. In a very simple way, it means anyone can go.”

It’s true that you’re not currently flying a Pan Am Inspiration spaceplane on your way to a gigantic space hotel (as in 2001: A Space Odyssey), but who knows what the future might hold. “This is a completely new field that is still in its infancy, and we are witnessing its first steps,” says Laura Wurzyk. We do not know how far it will go.”