The crew included 38-year-old billionaire Jared Isaacman, who personally financed the trip; Hayley Arceneux, 29, a childhood cancer survivor and physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Sian Proctor, 51, a geologist and professor; and Chris Sembroski, a 42-year-old Lockheed Martin employee and lifelong space fan who claimed his seat through an online raffle.
The Inspiration4 flight was notable, however, because it was the first time SpaceX had used one of its Crew Dragon spacecraft, which was developed to carry professional astronauts to and from the International Space Station on behalf of NASA, for an entirely private mission.
SpaceX’s goal is to make extraterrestrial travel a more regular occurrence so that — if and when Earth’s orbit is home to extraterrestrial hotels and manufacturing facilities — outer space becomes relatively more accessible for the general population. Space tourism may also one day help fund SpaceX’s ambitious goals of attempting Martian colonization.
What Inspiration4 did — and didn’t — do
Isaacman addressed that criticism in an interview with Fintech Zoom Business last month, saying his only goal with Inspiration4 was to, well, inspire. And that’s why he coupled the mission with a St. Jude fundraiser, which surpassed its $200 million goal thanks to a $50 million donation from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
Timiebi Aganaba, who researches space ethics and law and teaches at Arizona State University, said the reaction is all a symptom of the innate complexity of imagining humanity’s future in space.
“It’s hard for me because I am also part of the space enthusiast community, but I think I’m a little bit more of a realist,” she told Fintech Zoom Business. “Inspiration4 feels like a one-off event. It was still initiated by a conversation between two billionaires” — Isaacman and Musk — “and it was still a great marketing opportunity.”
But, beyond the awe of spaceflight, Aganaba acknowledged that even she has grappled with the the question of how much focus — and resources — we should be putting into space travel when people all over the world “are dying and starving and hungry.”
Nevertheless, she still encourages people to pay attention and to develop a sense of curiosity about space and what it is we should be doing there.
“That sense of being able to look beyond their immediate circumstances and see the future and see something different is going to take them far wherever they end up going,” she said.
SpaceX is the poster child of a new space age in which companies — rather than governments — carry the mantel of space exploration. The idea is that the private sector can drive innovation and bring down costs.
Dozens of other companies have similar visions. Branson’s company, Virgin Galactic, and Bezos’ Blue Origin are working to make suborbital joy rides — which cost significantly less money than orbital jaunts but still have a roughly quarter-million-dollar price tag — a routine experience.
And on the orbital side, a Houston-based company called Axiom, run by a former NASA leader, has already booked four missions with SpaceX for private citizen trips to the ISS. The company also says it’s currently constructing the world’s first commercial space station.
Space Adventures, the company behind the Russian-provided tourism missions of the early 2000s, has also booked a flight with SpaceX. And it’s scheduled a flight for Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa — the same person who booked the moon mission on SpaceX’s Starship — on a Russian Soyuz rocket for December 2021.
As for space tourism, specifically, Aganaba said she does not foresee it becoming a mass market business.
“This last year was a little bit over the top of people saying ‘Everyone is going to go to space!’… Does everyone needs to go to space?” she said. “Everyone doesn’t need to go to Mount Everest.”