SpaceX, you know? Sure ! Who hasn’t heard of this American company founded in 2002 by the famous entrepreneur Elon Musk, associated with the equally famous Tesla electric car project? Very recently, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (or SpaceX) hit the headlines when it won a contract worth 2.9 billion dollars (2.5 billion euros) from the American space agency (NASA), for the development of a spacecraft intended to take astronauts to the Moon from 2024. In the process, last August, the rival company of Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin, decided to file a complaint against the American space agency, on the grounds that the latter’s decision did not seem to him of absolute impartiality.
A new episode in the soap opera of the rivalry between Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk is announced with the launch Wednesday, September 15 by SpaceX of its first spacecraft intended exclusively for tourism. Within five days, it will have been two months since Blue Origin’s New Shepard took four passengers to an altitude of some 107 kilometers. A little earlier, on July 11, it was Richard Branson, aboard the Virgin Galactic ship, who came to caress the final frontier.
After Virgin and Blue Origin, SpaceX’s turn to embark on space tourism
The rocket called Inspiration4 from Elon Musk’s company must also propel four passengers, except that they will spend three days in space, without any professional astronauts. It will be the first in history that a spacecraft put into orbit will only be inhabited by complete novices.
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Elon Musk’s company has already transported no less than ten astronauts to the ISS on behalf of NASA. Those who take off on September 15 will be the first private passengers to board the Dragon capsule, launched by the Falcon 9 rocket.
Takeoff from legendary launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Center in Florida is scheduled for Wednesday from 8 p.m. on the US East Coast (midnight GMT). Another launch opportunity is planned for Thursday if weather conditions dictate.
A billionaire treats himself to a trip to space
SpaceX’s billionaire tourist is named Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old US citizen and boss of a financial services firm and seasoned pilot. Unlike Richard Branson, he did not found the company to make this historic trip. He simply rents the services, for a price which has not been disclosed but which is in the tens of millions of dollars.
Because the mission has nothing to do with the experience of only a few minutes offered by Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. This time, it’s about going to fly further than the International Space Station (ISS).
“The risk is not zero,” acknowledges Jared Isaacman in one of the episodes of the documentary broadcast by Netflix on the mission. “You are traveling in a ship at 28,000 km/h around the globe. This kind of environment is associated with a certain risk.”
Three anonymous people to embody three moral values
In addition to Jared Isaacman, captain on board, three anonymous will be on the trip, selected through an original process that began with an advertisement projected during halftime of the Super Bowl, an American sporting event. Each seat is supposed to embody a value.
Hayley Arceneaux, survivor of childhood cancer, represents “hope”. She will be the first person with a prosthesis to go into space – and surely the one who is least connected to this universe. “Are we going to the moon?” she asked when presented with the opportunity. And after finding out no: “Apparently we haven’t been there for decades! It’s something I learned,” she laughs in the documentary.
The 29-year-old was selected because she works as a medical assistant at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee — a facility for which Jared Isaacman launched a huge fundraiser.
One of the donors got the seat of “generosity”: Chris Sembroski, 42, is a former US Air Force veteran who now works in the aviation industry.
The last seat represents “prosperity”, and was offered to Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old Earth science professor who in 2009 almost became an astronaut for NASA. She will be only the fourth African-American woman to go into space.
Long months of training before facing space
The crew has been training for several months. They experienced the g-force to which they will be exposed thanks to a centrifuge — a rapidly rotating arm several meters long. On board parabolic flights, they were able to taste a feeling of weightlessness. They also made a trek in the snow at high altitude on Mount Rainier, in the North-West of the United States.
Finally, they spent time on SpaceX premises, although the flight would normally remain fully automated.
During the three days in orbit, their sleep, their heart rate, their blood and their cognitive abilities will be analyzed. Tests will be carried out before and after the flight, to study the effect of the trip on their bodies. The idea is to accumulate data for future private passengers.
Because the stated goal of the mission is to open the doors of space to a greater number – although these remain for the moment only ajar for a few privileged people.
“Throughout the history of mankind, less than 600 humans have reached space“, recalled Jared Isaacman in a statement last month. “We are proud that our flight can help all those who will fly after us.