This is the dawn of a new space age.
Four civilians – a billionaire, a paramedic, aerospace worker and teacher – successfully launched into space on Wednesday evening.
The mission, named Inspiration 4, was the first to send all civilian personnel into orbit.
Instead of returning to Earth in just an hour, as the Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have done recently, the Inspiration 4 is orbiting the Earth in more or less space than the International Space Station.
What does this mean for the future of civilian space travel? Will the space be the next ultimate human amusement park?
NASA Director Phil McAllister has weighed in after more than 20 years working in the space industry.
How much does it cost to go into space?
It depends, says McAllister. For a tour at Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard, seats usually cost from $ 250,000 to $ 500,000.
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“Those are suborbital transport systems. They’re about a 15 minute ride, and they just touch the edge of the space and then come down. They don’t go into orbit,” says McAllister.
Inspiration 4 mission is different.
Citizen’s spacecraft is in orbit and has been orbiting the Earth for three days, much like an orbital space flight required by astronauts to the space station.
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Paying for it all is Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old billionaire high school dropout who is promoting the plane as a massive fundraising effort for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Pilot Isaacmann, who is eligible to fly commercial and military jets, signed with SpaceX in late 2020 for the mission.
Isaacmann does not say how much he paid SpaceX for the launch, but it is less than the $ 200 million he hopes to raise for St. Jude.
For NASA astronauts, McAlister says, orbital tours can cost up to $ 58 million, based on average calculated from commercial contracts with SpaceX and Boeing.
While $ 58 million may seem like a lot, it really is a good bargain for NASA.
After retiring his space shuttle, NASA paid about $ 80 million for each seat of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
“We wanted to end that dependency and make sure the US has the ability to carry our astronauts,” says McAllister. “Another mission that is part of the program is to enable the commercial capability of flying non-NASA customers into space.”
Privatization of space by American companies
This initiative, partnered with public and private resources for American space exploration, has been around for many years.
NASA has been working with SpaceX and Boeing for the past 10 years, transferring their knowledge to 60 years of human spaceflight and innovation in low-Earth orbit.
“In those 60 years, only 600 people have flown in space, and most of them are government astronauts. Over the next 60 years, that number is going to increase dramatically, and most of them will become private citizens,” says McAllister.
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NASA’s goal is to eventually retire the International Space Station and allow companies to build their own space stations with the latest technical designs that require less maintenance.
In the future, astronauts can only rent seats on space shutters and stay in rooms at space stations, as business travelers buy airline tickets from airlines and sleep in hotels.
McAllister says, “If you remember when the airline first started, it was very expensive, and it was only for the very rich. And then the entrepreneurs entered the market. “I hope the same will happen in human space transport.”
What does a trip to space look like?
Getting into a spaceship is definitely not as simple as the check-in process at the airport. Participants in Inspiration 4 had to train for months, understand spacecraft systems, and prepare for the physical toll of space.
Joining Isaacman, Billionaire:
Ay Hayley Arsenieux, Physician Assistant at St. Jude. As a child, she was treated for bone cancer at the hospital herself.
St. Chris Sembrowski, an aerospace worker from Seattle, was selected by 72,000 entries for St. Jude.
Ian Sean Proctor, a academician and trained pilot who was a finalist in NASA’s 2009 astronaut class.
SpaceX and Isaacman unveiled their plans to the world in a TV ad that ran during the Super Bowl in February.
Now that the staff of Inspiration 4 is in orbit, they are conducting various experiments to contribute to health research, such as drawing blood and measuring sleep activity.
In a SpaceX press briefing, SpaceX Director Benji Reid explained his vision: “We want to make life multi-planetary, and that means putting millions of people in space.”
Health data from aircraft will be shared with research institutions and medical schools to better understand how the human body is impacted by space and what we can do to make space a potential travel (or dwelling) destination.
McAllister imagines that he spends a large part of his time in the staff, looking out the window, looking at the thin blue line of the earth’s curvature and ambient atmosphere.
“You go out there, and you can see the earth, you can see the whole earth from outer space, and there are no boundaries. There are no boundaries, and you feel a connection to the human race that you have never experienced before,” says McAllister. “You come back with a good appreciation for our home planet.”
Florida Day contributed. Michelle Shen is a Money & Tech Digital Reporter for USATODAY. You can contact her @ michelle_shen10 on Twitter.