First all-civilian space mission

Source: By The Indian Express

Entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX announced 3 September 2021 that ‘Inspiration4’, its first all-civilian, non-governmental spaceflight, is on track for launch on 15 September 2021.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft is set to be launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida in the US. It will take a group of four private citizens into space for three days.

All four seats on the spacecraft have been purchased by US billionaire Jared Isaacman, founder of the fintech company Shift4 Payments. This is a part of an effort to raise millions for the Tennessee-based St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a paediatric treatment and research facility that focuses on children’s catastrophic diseases, particularly leukaemia and other cancers.

Joining Isaacman on the journey to space is Haley Arceneaux, a childhood bone cancer survivor and physician’s assistant at the hospital. The two others who will be on the spacecraft — Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski — will be part of the mission after winning a global contest.

The four have been training for the journey for the past few months. The mission involves circling the Earth for three days, and then splashing down into the Atlantic Ocean.

Inspiration4 will orbit the Earth at 575km, higher than the International Space Station (408km) and the Hubble space telescope (547km). This will be the farthest distance travelled by a crewed mission since 2009, when astronauts last went to repair the Hubble.

The Dragon module that the group will be using has also been modified for the mission. Usually, the SpaceX module is used for travelling to the ISS, where it has to dock or join the floating laboratory. Since Inspiration4 is not going to the ISS, the docking port has been removed and has been replaced with a dome window instead, the report said.

This dome window will offer breath-taking views of the Earth for the four travellers. The window has been inspired by the Cupola, a module on the ISS used to make observations about our planet.

According to a report in the Independent, the journey will present an opportunity for collecting large amounts of health data that will aid in planning future crewed space missions.

As per the report, they will collect data on ECG (electrocardiograph) activity, movement, sleep, heart rate and rhythm, blood oxygen saturation, cabin noise and light intensity, which will help in assessing behavioural and cognitive changes over the journey.

The travellers will undergo balance and prescription tests just before and after their journey to assess their response to the change in gravity. Immune system function will also be monitored by collecting blood. Their organ systems will also be monitored by an AI-powered ultrasound device.

Along with the recent space journeys by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, Inspiration4 is seen as part of an effort to open up space travel to non-professionals.