Inspiration4, the first civilian-only space flight, operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, could open the door for commercial space flights.
After three days spent in Earth’s orbit, four crewmates — Jared Isaacman, 38, Sian Proctor, 51, Hayley Arceneaux, 29, and Chris Sembroski, 42 — safely splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida on Sept. 18. Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments
paid for the flight.
Jeff Bezos and Virgin Galactic’s
Richard Branson previously took their own rocket rides, they did not enter orbit. Both were also tight-lipped on the training and flight-preparation regiment. But SpaceX shared each step of preparation. As you will see, most of what they went through roughly resembles NASA pilots’ astronaut training.
Step one: The Inspiration4 crew goes for a spin
After watching the SpaceX launch of the Falcon 9 rocket carrying professional astronauts to the International Space Station, the crew of Inspiration4 was placed in a centrifuge. This contraption is used to test pilots’ and astronauts’ tolerance to acceleration above that experienced in the Earth’s gravity. It also prepares them for the real liftoff.
Step two: Mental and physical hardening
Orbiting Earth at 17,500 miles per hour in a confined space for three full days is no easy task. To prepare physically and mentally, the crew decided to complete a different, but hardly less daunting, challenge here on Earth: To climb Washington’s Mount Rainier and reach Camp Muir at 10,188 feet of altitude.
“I was nervous going into our Mount Rainier trip, as I was not sure if I was physically ready for the challenge,” Arceneaux said. “I worked hard in the gym during the month prior to prepare.”
It seems that the effort paid off; crews usually train for six months for the climb. The objective of the ordeal was to adjust to a harsh environment and to “get comfortable at feeling uncomfortable.” This newly found physical and mental stamina proved crucial for the challenges ahead.
Step three: Back to school
Reaching for the stars — literally — doesn’t require only endurance and stamina. An astronaut, civilian or professional needs a keen understanding of how rockets and spaceships work. This knowledge is not only invaluable in case something goes wrong, but also keeps crew members focused and active during flight operations. As you might expect, the amount of data to take in was a lot, and many were taken aback by it, including Isaacman, who said: “We have, like, 3,000 pages across 100 different manuals. It was a lot. I don’t think any of us really predicted that.”
Step four: The “ultimate test”
The next step is applying acquired knowledge and skills in a series of custom flight and launch simulations. The last part ends in a 30-hour ultimate test that pitted them against all sorts of minor issues, and also nightmare scenarios, which the crew needed to overcome. This was a strain on both body and mind, as crew members needed to work their way out of scenarios in which three onboard computers failed, the crew lost touch with mission control and the capsule’s parachutes wouldn’t deploy.
The crew survived the simulated ordeal, proving they had what it takes to be the first civilians in the history of humankind to reach orbit.
The rest of the training consisted of parabolic flights to help the crew experience microgravity and spending time in high-altitude chambers to simulate symptoms of oxygen deprivation in order to recognize it should it happen mid-flight. It also included acquiring mission-specific skills such as drawing blood and taking skin samples. One of the mission goals was to acquire data on the effects of spaceflight on the human body and acquiring samples in addition to performing other tests crucial in achieving that goal.
As you can see, these civilian astronauts weren’t just passive pieces of cargo propelled into space; rather, they were contributing members of a crew whose success and survival depended on everyone working together.
In the future, however, many of these processes and tests may end up being streamlined. As space travel becomes mainstream, travelers will likely take on a more passive role, not unlike passengers aboard Earth vessels today. This would not only drive ticket prices lower, but also enable faster admission and more frequent launches.
Would you fly on a mission like this if you could afford the ticket?
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