Four people, all of whom just six months ago had no formal spaceflight training, strapped themselves into a SpaceX capsule atop a 200-foot-tall rocket and took a three-day spin around Earth. After splashing down off the coast of Florida on Saturday, the passengers emerged from their capsule, smiling and waving, if a little unsteady after spending nearly 72 hours in weightlessness. SpaceX says it’s just the beginning.
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.
Inspiration4, as the tourism mission that concluded Saturday was called, was far from the first time people who don’t list astronaut as their day job have been to space. In the 2000s, a cohort of wealthy thrill seekers paid their way onto the International Space Station, traveling via Russian Soyuz rockets. And in July, billionaire space company founders Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos each took a brief trip to suborbital space in spacecraft their respective companies built.
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 has even more such missions on its Crew Dragon schedule, including five already contracted for additional groups of tourists to fly in the months and years ahead. The company is underway developing its “Starship” vehicle, a gargantuan rocket and spacecraft system that promises to be the most powerful ever launched. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has also booked a trip on that rocket for a trip around the moon, and NASA could use it for its lunar landing ambitions.
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.