Four private space travelers will make history this week when they lift off on a SpaceX rocket on the world’s first all-civilian (and privately financed) trip to orbit.
The four crewmembers of the mission, called Inspiration4, are non-professional astronauts with diverse careers, ranging from science communications to medical care to payment systems. After six months of training together, Shift4 entrepreneur billionaire Jared Isaacman, geoscientist Sian Proctor, bone cancer survivor and physician’s assistant Haley Arcenaux and data engineer Chris Sembroski are in the last days before their launch on Wednesday (Sept. 15).
Here’s a brief look at each of the Inspiration4 astronauts based on Space.com interviews and other media.
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Jared Isaacman, 38, made his billionaire fortune as the founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, but kept his space dreams alive through other means. Before buying the SpaceX flight and his crewmates’ seats for an undisclosed price, he flew a high-speed circumnavigation of the world, flew in several air shows and became owner of jet pilot training company Draken International. He has flown roughly 6,000 hours in various flight aircraft, which he said may be helpful for any spaceflight “contingencies” because he has faced emergencies in flight. He’ll command the Inspiration4 flight.
Isaacman joked with Space.com, during a joint interview with fellow crew member Sian Proctor, that he is grateful Netflix is covering the mission in a docuseries given how busy the crew has been in training, which leaves little time for thinking about the importance of this mission to their lives.
“We haven’t had the opportunity to pause and reflect on all these life-changing milestones we passed through,” he added. “We’re kind of looking forward to a couple of days of downtime in quarantine, to get ready for the big day. But we’re super confident in our training, confident in the hardware, the software, and the amazing team at SpaceX that’s going to support us on this endeavor.”
Isaacman is using the Inspiration4 mission to try and raise $200 million to aid efforts to fight childhood cancer by the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He’s donated $100 million himself. The other three seats represent Hope, Prosperity and Generosity, he’s said.
Sian Proctor, 51, is a geoscience professor at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, Arizona, and will be the first person from Guam to fly in space and has completed four space analog missions, including the all-female Sensoria Mars 2020 mission at the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) Habitat.
In a Space.com interview, Proctor said training for Inspiration4 allowed her to fulfill a childhood dream of being an F-16 pilot, as she received fighter jet training in the similarly capable MiG-29.
“I loved it. I got to control it and do some turns and banking,” she said. “It handles really well. I’m a pilot of a Cessna 172, that’s what I learned on, so going from a prop[eller] plane Cessna to a MiG-29 is a big jump. But then again, going from a MiG-29 to a Falcon 9 rocket is also a big jump.”
Proctor also speaks about the “family aspect” of the crew, how they trained during a pandemic, her love of watercolor painting and how her life experience as a Black geoscientist, artist and science communicator will add to the goals of the mission.
Proctor was selected as the Prosperity seat on Inspiration4 mission as part of a competition to set up an e-commerce shop on the Shift4Shop platform owned by Isaacman’s company Shift4Payments. Her Space2Inspire shop offers prints and postcards of her art, which she uses to raise awareness and conversations on women of color in the space industry.
Hayley Arceneaux, 29, is a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and is the Hope seat and medical officer on the Inspiration4 flight. She was selected by St. Jude as an ambassador for the mission.
In Arceneaux’s Space.com interview, she recalled the surprise e-mail she received from colleagues about the Inspiration4 mission, which kick-started her space experience.
“They told me about how this first all-civilian mission was being used for good and to benefit St. Jude, and they absolutely shocked me when they asked if I wanted to be part of it and go to space. Immediately I said yes, and then I was like, ‘Let me check with my family,'” she said.
In a funny coincidence, Arceneaux’s brother and sister-in-law are aerospace engineers, so once she received an informal safety briefing from them and the thumbs-up from her mother, Arceneaux felt she could go.
Arceneaux feels extremely lucky to get the opportunity; as a childhood bone cancer survivor living with a prosthetic (most of one of her femur bones was removed along with a tumor and replaced with a prosthetic that expanded over time as she grew), she would have been disqualified from NASA astronaut opportunities and never considered being a spaceflyer, she added. But her medical experience will come in handy, as she will serve as the crew’s medical officer while in space.
Chris Sembroski, 41, is a data engineer and former U.S. Space Camp counselor along with a former volunteer for ProSpace, a space lobby group focused on allowing commercial space companies such as SpaceX to conduct operations. He is flying on the Generosity seat on Inspiration4, which was awarded to the winner of a fundraising campaign that only asked entrants to donate to St. Jude. A friend actually won the seat, then passed it on to Semproski.
“I am completely humbled to be a part of the first all-civilian mission to space,” Sembroski said in a statement. “Joining the Inspiration4 crew and its mission of support for St. Jude is truly a dream come true. There are so many people who have given their time and talents in support of that dream. It is my hope that this flight will inspire others to pay that generosity forward by pledging their support for St. Jude and encouraging kids to dream the impossible, ushering in a new era of space exploration open to all.”
Sembroski also served in the U.S. Air Force, maintaining Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles and serving in Iraq. He now works at Lockheed Martin.
SpaceX will launch the Inspiration4 astronauts on a used Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon Resilience on Wednesday (Sept. 15) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Liftoff is targeted for 8 p.m. EDT (0000 Sept. 16 GMT).
Visit Space.com on launch day for complete coverage of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission.
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