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Friday, 10 September 2021

Inspiration4 ‘Go’ for First All-Civilian Orbital Mission to Space


A Falcon 9 rocket was installed on the launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center over the weekend. On September 14, it will transport into space a crew of four, the first four space tourists in history. This trip into orbit, lasting about three days, is fully funded by billionaire Jared Isaacman, who will be the commander of this "mission" called Inspiration4.

None of the passengers are professional astronauts. It will therefore be the very first fully tourist space trip ever. For the occasion, the Crew Dragon capsule has benefited from a few adaptations, including a massive glass dome - installed in place of the usual mooring module - which will allow passengers to fully enjoy the view. The launch is scheduled for next Tuesday at 8 p.m. EDT at the earliest.

While Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic respectively allowed Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson to spend a few minutes in the upper atmosphere, SpaceX offers here a much more memorable experience: a three-day world tour. If all goes without a hitch, this Inspiration4 mission could mark the start of a new era of spaceflight, in which anyone can dream of traveling in orbit and thus discover the Earth from space (for a fee, of course ... ).

A flight that relies on reusable SpaceX devices

During this historic journey, Isaacman will be accompanied by three people he has selected himself: Sian Proctor, explorer and professor of geosciences, Christopher Sembroski, data engineer and Air Force veteran, as well as Hayley Arceneaux. , medical assistant at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, bone cancer survivor. If Isaacman, a pilot by training, has a solid experience of flying (at least, in the sky), this is not the case with these companions. And in a few days, Arceneaux, 29, will become the youngest American to travel in space.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft they will travel in, called Resilience , has already been in space: it made its first operational manned flight in November 2020, to lead astronaut Michael Hopkins and three other crew members. aboard the International Space Station (ISS); he returned to Earth in May. Likewise, the Falcon 9 rocket mobilized for the launch has already been used twice - the opportunity to once again underline the interest of reusable launchers which are SpaceX's specialty.

As mentioned above, because it does not need to dock with the ISS, the capsule has been modified to offer its occupants an extraordinary experience: it is equipped with a glass dome - largely inspired by the observation dome on the ISS - offering the lucky passengers a 360 ° view, a feeling of complete immersion in space.

The Crew Dragon's destination is not the same as for its previous flights, but the crew's recovery infrastructure in the Atlantic Ocean remains the same.

“Targeted” preparation for a commercial flight
Completely new to space travel, the four crew members still benefited from several weeks of training at SpaceX headquarters in California. At the NASTAR Center, they underwent centrifuge training to prepare for the various dynamic situations they will experience during flight - including launch, re-entry into the atmosphere, landing in the ocean, and a potential in-flight abandonment scenario. The centrifuge profiles were modeled by SpaceX, based on previous Crew Dragon missions, to faithfully reproduce the g-forces that the crew will experience during their journey into space.

As part of their preparation, they were also made to stay at Camp Muir , on Mount Rainier, about 3000 meters above sea level; this with the aim of consolidating the bonds of the team, immersed in relatively difficult environmental conditions. “This focused preparation was essential to the team's development and to preparing for its role as the first commercial crew to orbit the Earth,” a statement from the mission read.

It should also be noted that the vessel will carry a scientific payload: during the flight, the passengers will carry out some experiments on human health and performance; environmental data, as well as biological samples from crew members, will be collected before, during and after the mission. This extraordinary expedition will also be an opportunity to raise funds for the children's cancer treatment center at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Finally, if you want to follow this adventure more closely, know that a docu-series dedicated to the mission, directed by Jason Hehir, is available on Netflix. Two episodes of “Countdown: four tourists in space” are already available on the platform; two more will go online on Monday, September 13, while the last episode will be available at the end of the mission.

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