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SpaceX Inspiration4 Updates: The Crew Spends Their First Day in Orbit


The crew of the Inspiration4 mission is flying safely around Earth, SpaceX said in a Twitter update Wednesday afternoon.

But the altitude that they are orbiting at is not as unusual as some space commentators, including me, have said.

Andy Tran, a production supervisor for SpaceX, spoke during a livestream Tuesday covering the launch of the Inspiration4 mission: “They’re going to be higher than the International Space Station, higher than the Hubble Telescope, honestly higher than any humans other than those who went to the moon.”

That is not true, and I goofed in including that erroneous information in my stories yesterday. A former Times editor of mine often talked of facts that were “too good to be true,” and this was one of those.

Credit…NASA/Smithsonian Institution/Lockheed Corporation

The Inspiration4 crew is as far as 366 miles above Earth, which is more than 100 miles higher than the International Space Station. And they are farther from the planet than most astronauts who have gone to space since the end of NASA’s Apollo program in the 1970s.

But the space shuttle mission that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 was in an elliptical orbit that went as high as 386 miles above Earth. And in 1999, a mission to repair and upgrade that telescope was in an orbit that reached an altitude of 378 miles. Astronauts on both missions traveled farther from Earth than the crew members of Inspiration4.

All of this illustrates how close humans have remained to home since the end of Apollo. The moon is almost 240,000 miles from Earth. Since Apollo 17 returned in 1972, no one has traveled more than 400 miles away from the planet, and that will not change until the first crewed mission of NASA’s Artemis program, which is tentatively scheduled for late 2023.

Unlike with NASA missions, there is little information about the Inspiration4 crew. SpaceX reported on Twitter that the crew members are “healthy, happy and resting comfortably,” that they had performed the first round of scientific research, and that they had eaten a couple of meals and slept.

SpaceX also tweeted a photograph of the glass dome at the top of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, although there was no one inside it at the time.

As private space travelers and not NASA employees, the SpaceX crew can choose to maintain a veil of privacy around their activities. More images and video will eventually be shown in the final episode of a Netflix documentary series about the mission. It is also possible that the crew could participate in live public broadcasts from space, but no plans have been announced yet.

Credit…via Reuters

Outer space got a little more crowded on Wednesday night.

The four-person crew of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 raised the number of people in space to 14, edging out a record set in 2009 when 13 people lived on the International Space Station after the space shuttle Endeavour docked there.

This year, though, the 14 humans in space are on three separate missions.

Shenzhou-12, from China, is completing a 90-day trip and is carrying three astronauts. And Expedition 65, from NASA, launched in April with a team of seven, who are currently at the space station.

The “Commander & Benefactor” of the Inspiration4 is Jared Isaacman, a high school dropout who became a billionaire founder of a payments processing company. He follows fellow billionaires Richard Branson, the entrepreneur behind the Virgin companies, and Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, who went this year.

Billionaires like them, and the private companies they fund, have made the cost of space travel cheaper, according to Dr. Elliott Bryner, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona. As those costs go down, the number of people who are in space will go up, he said.

“The thing that has been barring us from going to space is cost,” Dr. Bryner said on Wednesday night. “With private launches, the number of people who can go to space will continue to increase.”

“It’s still a millionaire’s game, but at least you don’t have to be a superpower country,” he said.

The Crew Dragon is a gumdrop-shaped capsule — an upgraded version of SpaceX’s original Dragon capsule, which has been used many times to carry cargo. It is roughly comparable in size to the Apollo capsule that took NASA astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and ’70s. Earlier NASA capsules — Mercury and Gemini — were considerably smaller.

The capsule has more interior space than a minivan, but less than a studio apartment. And there is a bathroom. As you can probably imagine, you and some of your friends may be able to pile into a space like that for a brief time, but much longer could become uncomfortable.

So far, NASA’s missions in Crew Dragon have spent no more than about a day orbiting the planet before docking with the space station. Inspiration4’s crew will spend three days aboard.

“It’s like an extended camping trip,” Mr. Sembroski said during Tuesday’s news conference. “You’re in a camper van with some of your closest friends for three days.”

The crew members will be able to pull out sleeping bags “and strap yourself in so you don’t float into each other during the middle of the night,” he said.

“There will be a couple unique challenges maintaining privacy here and there,” Mr. Sembroski said. He said they had received good tips from NASA astronauts who previously traveled to space in the capsule.

“We’ll let you know more about how successful they were when we come back,” Mr. Sembroski said.

While food for spaceflight has made great advancements in quality since the 1960s, dining may not be a highlight of this orbital trip. In the Netflix documentary about Inspiration4, Ms. Arceneaux said during a taste test that she didn’t think she’d eat much in space. SpaceX has also not said who prepared the meals for this mission.

One of the planned meals is cold pizza, Mr. Sembroski revealed during an episode of an Axios podcast that followed their training for the mission.

“The cold pizza better be packed, because that was my order,” Dr. Proctor said on Tuesday. “Food and mood is so important. So I think for us it was really important working with SpaceX to get food that made us feel comfortable.”

You can’t go anywhere these days without a playlist. And the Inspiration4 crew members, in collaboration with Spotify, put one together for their tour through Earth’s orbit.

Each of the four crew members contributed 10 songs. Chris Sembroski, the mission specialist on the flight, provided an explanation for some of the songs he selected (with the help of his wife, Erin Duncan-Sembroski):

“I went with songs that reminded me of flight and realizing what has been a lifelong dream for me,” he said through a spokesman. “The idea of strutting out in my suit with ‘Dangerous’ by Big Data playing or the saxophone solo from ‘Midnight City’ by M83 as I look out at space from the cupola is already sending chills down my spine.”

If you tune into the playlist on Spotify, you can try to imagine what it’s like to hear “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins while flying through a place with almost no air, or that even if you go to space, you can’t escape “I Gotta Feeling,” by the Black Eyed Peas.

This is not the only music that the crew might listen to during their three days in orbit. They also have a nonfungible token, or NFT, of a new song, “Time in Disguise,” by the band Kings of Leon.

Mr. Sembroski has brought a ukulele, which he will play during the mission. It and the NFT will be auctioned for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

In addition, Sian Proctor, the mission’s pilot, has a personal playlist that includes a song by a friend of hers, Chelsea Gohd. Ms. Gohd is, by day, a senior writer at the website, but she is also a musician who performs under the name Foxanne.

Last year, Ms. Gohd and Dr. Proctor participated in a simulation in Hawaii of a mission exploring the surface of Mars. Ms. Gohd lived in a habitat that was supposed to be on Mars. Dr. Proctor was part of mission control. “And she saved the day for us quite a few times as it was a tumultuous mission,” Ms. Gohd said.

Earlier this year, Ms. Gohd told Dr. Proctor about a new song, “I Could Go On,” and Dr. Proctor enthusiastically said she wanted to take that to space on her iPhone.

If you are curious about the musical tastes of the Inspiration4 crew members, here is the full list of songs on their official Spotify playlist:

  • “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins

  • “Higher” by Creed

  • “Hanging by a Moment” by Lifehouse

  • “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi

  • “Coming Undone” by Korn

  • “Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down

  • “New Divide” by Linkin Park

  • “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey

  • “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty

  • “Welcome to Paradise” by Green Day

  • “Anything Can Happen” by Ellie Goulding

  • “Space Girl” by Francis Forever

  • “Lifetime” by Romy

  • “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel

  • “All Star” by Smash Mouth

  • “All The Small Things” by Blink-182

  • “Danza Kuduro” by Don Omar, Lucenzo

  • “I Love It ft. Charli XCX” by Icona Pop

  • “Starships” by Nicki Minaj

  • “Toxic” by Britney Spears

  • “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore

  • “Walking on a Dream” by Empire of the Sun

  • “Renegades” by X Ambassadors

  • “Dangerous” by Big Data

  • “Makeba” by Jain

  • “Colors” by Black Pumas

  • “Safe and Sound” by Capital Cities

  • “Midnight City” by M83

  • “Helena Beat” by Foster the People

  • “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd

  • “Beautiful Day” by U2

  • “Stay Gold” by Stevie Wonder

  • “I Gotta Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas

  • “Dance Apocalyptic” by Janelle Monaé

  • “Rocket Man” by Elton John

  • “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic

  • “High Hopes” by Panic! At The Disco

  • “Imagine” by John Lennon

  • “Chances” by Five for Fighting

  • “F*ckin’ Perfect” by Pink

For most of the mission, if nothing goes wrong, the Crew Dragon spacecraft will operate autonomously with the assistance of SpaceX’s mission control at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.

The astronauts’ main task is to monitor the spacecraft’s systems. In the case of malfunctions, however, the crew, especially Mr. Isaacman as the commander and Dr. Proctor as the pilot, have learned how to take over the flying of Resilience.

Credit…John Raoux/Associated Press

Mr. Isaacman has declined to say how much he is paying for this orbital trip, only that it was less than the $200 million he hopes to raise for St. Jude Children’s Hospital with an accompanying fund-raising drive.

Credit…John Kraus/Agence France-Presse, via Inspiration4

For the mission, Mr. Isaacman named the four Crew Dragon seats to reflect positive aspects of humanity: leadership, hope, generosity and prosperity.

“We set out from the start to deliver a very inspiring message,” Mr. Isaacman said during a news conference on Tuesday, “and chose to do that through an interesting crew selection process.”

As commander for Inspiration4, Mr. Isaacman fills the leadership seat.

Mr. Isaacman gave two of the four seats to St. Jude. The hope seat was earmarked for a St. Jude health care worker, and hospital officials chose Ms. Arceneaux, who quickly said yes to the offer.

Another seat, generosity, was raffled off to raise money for the hospital. Mr. Sembroski entered, donating $50, but he did not win the sweepstakes, which helped raise $13 million for St. Jude. A friend of his, though, did — an old college buddy from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. The friend, who remains anonymous, decided not to go to space but, knowing about Mr. Sembroski’s enthusiasm, transferred the prize to him.

“I think that just really puts me in a very special spot,” Mr. Sembroski said, “where not only do I feel very lucky to be here but I have a huge responsibility to pay that forward and show that generosity towards others, and to bring that message to everyone else.”

The last seat, prosperity, was the prize in a contest run by Mr. Isaacman’s company, Shift4 Payments. Contestants used the company’s software to design an online store and then tweeted videos describing their entrepreneurial and space dreams. (Using the software, Dr. Proctor started selling her space-related artwork, and in her video, she read a poem that she wrote.)

Credit…Chandan Khanna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

When he announced Inspiration4 in February, Mr. Isaacman said he wanted it to be more than an extraterrestrial jaunt for rich people like him. He reached out to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, which treats children at no charge and develops cures for childhood cancers as well as other diseases. Mr. Isaacman offered to use the mission as a fund-raising vehicle for St. Jude, setting a $200 million target.

“If you’re going to accomplish all those great things out in space, all that progress, then you have an obligation to do some considerable good here on Earth, like making sure you conquer childhood cancer along the way,” he said.

So far, more than $130 million has been raised including the $100 million that Mr. Isaacman is personally donating to St. Jude.

“We are elated with where we are from a fund-raising perspective,” said Richard C. Shadyac Jr., the president of ALSAC, the fund-raising organization for St. Jude. “I couldn’t be more pleased. We’ll continue to strive for that $200 million goal.”

Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

He grew up in New Jersey and in ninth grade started a company offering help to befuddled computer users. One of his clients was a payment processing company, and its chief executive offered him a job. Mr. Isaacman took the job and dropped out of high school at age 16. He obtained a general educational development certificate, or G.E.D.

After half a year, Mr. Isaacman figured out a new way to handle payment processing, and in 1999 he founded his own company in his parents’ basement. That evolved into Shift4 Payments, which went public in June 2020.

Mr. Isaacman started flying as a hobby, learning to pilot more and more advanced aircraft including military fighter jets. In 2012, he started a second company called Draken International, which owns fighter jets and provides training for pilots in the United States military. He has since sold Draken but still flies fighter jets for fun.

Last year, Mr. Isaacman wanted to invest in SpaceX, which remains a privately held company, but missed the latest investment offering by the company. Mr. Isaacman tried to convince SpaceX officials of his enthusiasm by telling them he wanted to buy a trip to orbit someday. That led to conversations that resulted in Mr. Isaacman undertaking the Inspiration4 mission. He is serving as the mission’s commander.

Credit…Inspiration 4/Via Reuters

Sian Proctor, 51, is a community college professor from Tempe, Ariz.

Dr. Proctor, who is African American and holds a doctorate in science education, had come close to becoming an astronaut the old-fashioned way. She said that in 2009, she was among 47 finalists whom NASA selected from 3,500 applications. The space agency chose nine new astronauts that year. Dr. Proctor was not one of them.

She applied twice more and was not even among the finalists.

She still pursued her space dreams in other ways. In 2013, Dr. Proctor was one of six people who lived for four months in a small building on the side of a Hawaiian volcano, part of an effort financed by NASA to study the isolation and stresses of a long trip to Mars.

She is the pilot on the Inspiration4 mission, the first Black woman to serve as the pilot of a spacecraft.

Credit…Chandan Khanna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Hayley Arceneaux, 29, is a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis. Almost two decades ago, Ms. Arceneaux, who grew up in the small town of St. Francisville, La., was a patient at St. Jude when bone cancer was diagnosed in her left leg, just above the knee. Ms. Arceneaux went through chemotherapy, an operation to install prosthetic leg bones and long sessions of physical therapy.

“When I grow up, I want to be a nurse at St. Jude,” she said in a video shown at the ceremony in 2003. “I want to be a mentor to patients. When they come in, I’ll say, ‘I had that when I was little, and I’m doing good.’”

Last year, Ms. Arceneaux was hired by St. Jude. She works with children with leukemia and lymphoma.

Ms. Arceneaux is the youngest American ever to travel to orbit. She will also be the first person with a prosthetic body part to go to space. She is the health officer for the mission.

Credit…Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Christopher Sembroski, 42, of Everett, Wash., works in data engineering for Lockheed Martin. During college, Mr. Sembroski worked as a counselor at Space Camp, an educational program in Huntsville, Ala., that offers children and families a taste of what life as an astronaut is like. He also volunteered for ProSpace, a nonprofit advocacy group that pushed to open space to more people.

Mr. Sembroski described himself as “that guy behind the scenes, that’s really helping other people accomplish their goals and to take center stage.”

He is the mission specialist for Inspiration4, and responsible for certain tasks during the mission.

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