On September 15th, 2021 at 8:02 pm EDT, crewed orbital flight passed from the realm of superpowers to citizens, from highly vetted astronauts to the people we know and work with every day.
The Inspiration4 spacecraft, Crew Dragon Resilience, took Hayley Arceneaux (physician’s assistant and bone cancer survivor), Chris Sembroski (data engineer), Dr. Sian Proctor (geology professor and now the first black, woman spacecraft pilot), and Jared Isaacman (American entrepreneur and, yes, billionaire) to the 5th highest orbit ever flown for over 3 days.
The mission earned over $200 million in donations for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, about half of that donated by Isaacman himself, who also paid for all the seats on the flight. Befitting of a mission meant to herald the opening of spaceflight of the everyday, the biggest problem on the mission was a toilet malfunction.
Certainly, there has been grumbling about billionaires in space. Though uncomfortable for some, it is nevertheless true that tycoons in American history have had positive influences on the growth of the nation. Andrew Carnegie, for one, was a contradictory figure who broke unions but made enormous contributions to social causes. Those who today use their wealth to lift humanity beyond the limits of the gravity well we call home should not be casually dismissed. They are no mere profligate joy riders.
Consider this, in September and October this year the world will see its youngest and oldest humans in space. Hayley Arceneaux (Inspiration4) is a 29-year-old with a knee replacement and a prosthetic implant in her left leg. With a joyous personality, she is a beacon to all who are not physically perfect but can now dream of reaching for the stars.
Next, if all goes as planned, William Shatner of Star Trek fame will ride Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket on a short hop into space, becoming —at 90 years old— the oldest human to boldly venture into space.
Very soon, suborbital and orbital flights are barely going to make the news. The next thing you’ll hear about is the space hotel which will no-doubt dwarf the ISS. None of this will be paid for with government money; SpaceX has driven down launch to orbit costs to the realm of entrepreneurial access.
While the Space Shuttle cost about $54,500/kg, SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 brings that down to $2,720/kg. Falcon Heavy will cut that in half – $1,400/kg. The aspirational cost for SpaceX’s fully reusable Starship is tens of dollars per kilogram.
Before the decade is out, we’ll be heading back to the moon. The first crewed landings on Mars may be within years of that, and the voyages to the Red Planet will be crewed by hundreds of people on multiple ships.
As Elon Musk said “The reason I started SpaceX was to get humanity to Mars. I want to try to make the dream of space accessible to anyone and ultimately making science fiction not fiction, forever.”
Along with whatever flaws need pointing out or missteps you may wish to protest, we have indeed now entered that age irrevocably and forever.
Note – for an inspiration voyage you can participate in from the comfort of your couch – watch the Netflix Documentary “Countdown.” Here is the promo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D38W150h9a4&t=11s