Instead of docking to the International Space Station (ISS) like other SpaceX manned missions, the mission’s Crew Dragon spacecraft will remain in Earth orbit for three days under its own power. The confines of their spacecraft, called Resilience, which boasts about three times the interior volume of the large vehicle. To keep them occupied, the spacecraft’s docking port, which is normally used to communicate with the International Space Station, has been converted to glass dome, giving the crew fantastic panoramic views of Earth and the universe beyond.
Beyond that, the mission objectives are limited. There are some science experiments planned, but the most notable aspect of the mission is what will happen Not Happen or occur. In particular, none of the crew members will directly drive the spacecraft. Instead, it will be controlled independently and with the help of mission control on the ground. McDowell explains that this is not a trivial change, and there are risks involved. “For the first time, if automated systems don’t work, you could be in real trouble,” he says. “What this shows is the increased confidence in the software and automatic control systems that allow you to transport tourists unaccompanied.”
All of this combines to make the launch of Inspiration4 an exciting moment in human spaceflight, albeit one that has been a tentative attempt before. In the 1980s, NASA hoped to start something similar – the Spaceflight Participation Program, an effort to give many ordinary citizens the opportunity to travel to space on the space shuttle. “There was a feeling that some of the astronauts were a bit conservative in their descriptions of the flight,” says author Alan Ludwig, who led the program. NASA wanted people who could best communicate the experience and chose a teacher, journalist, and artist.
The program, however, came to a tragic end. The first participant, Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from New Hampshire, died in the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger along with six other members of the crew. The program was canceled, and the space shuttle program as a whole stagnated. Experts once envisioned it would fly hundreds of missions a year, but only 110 more launches were made in the next 25 years, until shuttle flights ceased in 2011.
The majority of spaceflights will remain the prerogative of today’s highly wealthy and professional astronauts. If you’re not wealthy, you’ll still be restricted to applying for contests or hoping to get a ticket from a wealthy benefactor—perhaps not the glorious future of space travel that many envisioned.
But Inspiration4 shows that there are opportunities for more “regular” people to go into space, although they are few and far between. “It’s a milestone in the arrival of humans,” says space historian John Logsdon, professor emeritus at the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. In a very simplistic sense, it means anyone can go.
“You won’t fly in Ban Am A space plane is on its way to a giant rotating space hotel yet, but who’s to say what the future might hold. “This is a completely new industry in its infancy, and we are seeing the first steps,” Forczyk says. “We don’t know how far it will go.”