Despite all of the turmoil our nation is currently experiencing, as well as our lackluster education system and the dismal quality of our decrepit institutional and governing authorities, America is not yet lost and tomorrow will once again prove that point. For only in a land where individual freedom remains the lodestar by which we pursue after our nation’s highest ideals, can the audacious voyage of the Inspiration 4 – the first private orbital space venture – be conceived and executed.
A History of the Race to the Stars
At the beginning of the space age, only the world’s most powerful governments could muster the necessary resources and technology to launch humans above the atmosphere and into space. The Soviets and Americans were the main competitors in the space arena, and began sending cosmonauts and astronauts in the 1960s. They were later joined by China who sent taikonauts into space at the dawn of the new millennium. As space programs became more sophisticated and their crews gained more experience, tourists with minimal training and selected professionals wanted to partake in space travel, despite its inherent risks.
The Soviets were the first to initiate this process in 1978 as an international public relations campaign by bringing foreign pilots aboard their Soyuz rockets to visit the Salyut and Mir space stations. These cosmonauts came from Warsaw Pact countries such as Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Poland, as well as overseas allies like Vietnam and Cuba beginning in 1980. Eventually the program extended to non-aligned countries starting with India in 1984, and even western democracies beginning with France in 1982.
Americans joined the effort to ferry citizens into space on the Space Shuttle with countries with whom they had diplomatic relations, first with West Germany in 1983, Canada in 1984, and many others since. To improve congressional sympathy towards their mission (and no doubt their funding), NASA started taking elected representatives into space, starting with Senator Jake Garn in 1985, Congressman Bill Nelson (who is now a NASA administrator) in 1986, and finally Senator (and retired Mercury astronaut) John Glenn in 1998. The first non-government astronaut to be taken into space was Charles Walker who was a contractor specialist who flew aboard the Space Shuttle for three missions beginning in 1984. NASA intended to expand the ability of spaceflight to the public, but scrubbed such programs after the Challenger explosion in 1986.
The Challenge of Spaceflight Passes into New Hands
However, in 2001 American engineer and millionaire Dennis Tito became the first private citizen to venture into orbit, when he funded his own way aboard a Soyuz TM-32 rocket to visit the International Space Station (ISS). He was followed by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth in 2002 on a Soyuz TM-34 and American entrepreneur, engineer, and scientist Gregory Olson in 2003 onboard a Soyuz TMA-7. In 2006, Iranian-American engineer and businesswoman Anousheh Ansari became the first private female space tourist, followed by Charles Simonyi who became the first space tourist to go twice – in 2007 and again in 2009. Since then, other private travelers have ventured into space including the American video game designer Richard Garriott in 2008 and Canadian businessman and poker player Guy Laliberté in 2009.
When the Space Shuttle retired a decade ago, America has relied on Soyuz spacecraft to gain access to the ISS. SpaceX has since rectified this deficiency with its reusable Crew Dragon spacecraft that was launched aboard a Falcon 9 Block 5 booster rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida in 2020. Hopefully Boeing will expand America’s own manned launch capacity with its CST-100 Starliner lifted by an Atlas V launch system by next year.
In the meantime, SpaceX has constructed three Crew Dragon spacecrafts, two of which have already been successfully flown. Demo-2 launched in May of last year with two astronauts aboard using capsule C206 named Endeavour. Crew-1 launched the following November with four astronauts bound for the ISS using capsule C207 named Resilience. Crew-2 launched in April of this year, also to the ISS using Endeavour again but with four astronauts, who remained in orbit.
Mankind’s Even Bigger Steps into Space
Tomorrow’s launch of Inspiration 4 will be reusing the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft for three days in orbit above the ISS and without docking to any platform. Upon completion of its orbit, the habitation capsule will separate from the propulsion segment, followed by splashdown after reentry. The Houston-based space infrastructure developer, Axiom Space, is making plans for the first private mission to visit the Harmony module of the ISS for early 2022. The first of three contracted missions with SpaceX will be aboard a Crew Dragon capsule – expected to be Resilience again, and will include an international crew of men with citizens from the US, Spain, Italy and Israel.
The three-day mission of Inspiration 4 will be commanded by Jared Isaacman- a billionaire entrepreneur who founded Shift4 Payments as a teenager after dropping out of high-school, and learned to fly jet aircraft, including the twin-engine MiG-29. During his contracting involvement with SpaceX, Isaacman was offered an opportunity to operate a Crew Dragon spacecraft into orbit, and jumped at the chance. Aside from being able to experience space, he is seeking to bring attention to children suffering from deadly and debilitating diseases by leveraging this first entirely private orbital venture into space, to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Isaacman selected as his crew members: Haley Arceneaux – a physician assistant and pediatric bone-cancer survivor, Chris Sembroski – an Air Force veteran and engineer, and Sian Proctor – a pilot, geologist and artist. Inspiration 4 will be the fourth manned Crew Dragon launch with a complement of four civilians and funded by Isaacson’s Shift4 company – hence the numeral in the project’s name.
Where else but in America could anyone contemplate such things? Where else but America are there people who have the vision and ambition to conglomerate the resources and talent to actually accomplish these great feats of science and engineering? Despite the concerted efforts of our politically chosen technocratic empty-suits in high offices and their busybody administrative appointees, to make our lives less pleasant, they have not yet stamped out America’s creativity and innovation. There remain pockets of merit and examples of achievement across this continent, where some Americans can dream big and others can turn those dreams into reality. The Inspiration 4 mission is one of those achievements.