SpaceX capsule creates history by sending an all-civilian crew in space

Four amateur astronauts have successfully completed SpaceX’s Inspiration4 expedition into space. On Saturday, they splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean to signal the beginning of a new era.

The team comprised of Hayely Arceneaux, Sian Proctor, Chris Sembroski and Jared Isaacman. “That was a heck of a ride for us,” Isaacman (who sponsored the mission by paying an undisclosed amount) said after landing.


The expedition started on Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. In just three hours, the Dragon capsule was able to propel itself to reach an orbital altitude of 585 km – which is the farthest anyone has flown since NASA’s Apollo moon program in 1972.

The success of the capsule vindicates Elon Musk’s decision to invest so heavily in space tourism. He has also taken a slender lead over his counterparts – Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin) and Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic). Their journey into space lasted for a few minutes while SpaceX’s capsule remained in space for three days.


“This is fascinating because it is a commercial mission on a commercial vehicle. It’s not going to a destination, none of the participants are government astronauts, nor have they been government astronauts. It really is a new phenomenon,” industry analyst Carissa Christensen (founder of BryceTech) told National Geographic.


The capsule was controlled completely from the ground. However, the four crew members were given training for six months to handle any emergency situation. For food, they had cold pizza, sandwiches, pasta Bolognese and Mediterranean lamb. In a tweet, Musk apologized for the cold pizza and said that the next expedition will have a food warmer and free WiFi.


Benji Reed, SpaceX's human-spaceflight chief, praised the smoothness with which the mission was completed. He said that there were hardly any issues at all – only a toilet fan and a temperature sensor malfunctioned.


What is Musk’s vision?


Musk’s goal is to make life multi-planetary and along with Inspiration4, SpaceX has been working on other projects – most notably ‘Starship’. It’s an attempt to ferry 100 people to Mars.


“History is going to bifurcate along two directions. One path is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction event. The alternative is to become a spacefaring civilisation and a multi-planet species, which I hope you would agree is the right way to go,” he had said in an international conference in Mexico.


Is space travel worth it?


Earlier, we had done an article on Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson’s space expeditions where we expressed our mixed feelings about space travel.


Yes, all three missions were successful but none of them were without risk. Pushing the boundaries of human potential can have fatal consequences. In space travel, there is very little room for error and a mistake could result in millions of dollars getting wasted. A 2014 developmental flight called VSS Enterprise (by Branson’s Virgin Galactic) had crashed and proved fatal for one of the astronauts.


According to a New Yorker report, even the final expedition had veered off course and a red light warning was flashed. The report was published after consulting some anonymous sources associated with the spaceship. Even though Virgin Galactic has refuted the report, it does raise doubts about the safety of these expeditions.


Also, in an age where we haven’t eradicated poverty, space tourism seems extravagant. A ticket on Virgin Galactic’s next flight costs $250,000. At that rate, it’ll take a long time for space tourism companies to make a profit.


Also, an expedition gone wrong can scare people and spell doom for the industry.


References:


1. SpaceX capsule with world's first all-civilian orbital crew returns safely (Reuters)

2. ‘Heck of a ride’: SpaceX’s historic amateur astronauts splash down safely in Atlantic (The Guardian)

3. SpaceX's trailblazing tourist trip to orbit ends with splashdown in the Atlantic (Hindustan Times)

SpaceX takes 4 passengers to orbit—a glimpse at private spaceflight’s future (National Geographic)