SpaceX has rolled the Falcon 9 rocket that will launch the historic Inspiration4 private astronaut mission to its NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC) launch facilities.
Part of a vistor’s center bus tour of the NASA center, Reddit and YouTube user whiterice98 caught the SpaceX rocket in motion as it was transported from a brand new processing facility to historic Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) – better known as Pad 39A. The same site that supported the inaugural launch of Saturn V and the Space Shuttle and every single crewed mission to the Moon, Pad 39A’s next mission doesn’t carry quite the same gravity but will still be a milestone in the history of spaceflight.
Scheduled to launch no earlier than 8pm EDT on September 14th (00:00 UTC 15 Sept), Inspiration4 will be the first mission in history to send a crew of solely private astronauts into orbit. While only possible thanks to the patronage and resources of billionaire and mission commander Jared Isaacman, the hope is that Inspiration4 will mark the start of a new age of spaceflight – one where virtually anyone can feasibly dream of reaching orbit and experiencing Earth from hundreds of miles above.
Along for the ride with Isaacman will be Ph.D. geologist and science communicator Sian Proctor, engineer Christopher Sembroski (standing in for a friend), and physician’s assistant and childhood cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux. Isaacman is a long-time private pilot with substantial flight experience but none of the four have any prior experience with spaceflight and will have a few months of training at most when they lift off together later this month. While Isaacman’s success as a businessman and founder is the sole enabler behind Inspiration4, it’s likely that none of the three passengers he chose would have ever had the resources or wherewithal to reach orbit (or even a minute or two of “space” with Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin) on their own.
Save for teacher Christina McAuliffe’s doomed 1986 mission aboard the Space Shuttle, one that never reached space or orbit, Inspiration4 will arguably be unique and inspiring for that alone. Set to fly on a twice-flown Falcon 9 booster and in a once-flown Crew Dragon capsule, SpaceX’s first fully private astronaut launch will also be reaping the fruits of the company’s decade-long pursuit of reusability.
Unlike the Shuttle, which was largely designed by politicians and committees and engineered retroactively, SpaceX has always been working on rocket and spacecraft reusability with the intention of actually making the practice more efficient and affordable than the expendable alternative. Over the course of the program’s history, Shuttle ultimately proved to be a dramatic downgrade from the highly successful Saturn V rocket NASA killed to fund it while still being less reliable, about as expensive, and several times deadlier.
With a little luck and far more skill, expertise, and hindsight, Inspiration4 will hopefully prove that Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon are what the Space Shuttle never could be – the key to orbit for professional and civilian astronauts alike.