Inspiration4 flight crew a week before launch. Photo credit: Twitter

On Saturday, Sept. 18, the first-ever all-civilian flight returned to Earth from space. The crew consisted of four members: 38-year-old Jared Isaacman (the billionaire who paid for the trip), 29-year-old Hayley Arceneux (a cancer survivor and physician at St. Jude’s), 51-year-old Sian Proctor (a geologist and professor) and 42-year-old Chris Sembroski (Lockheed Martin employee and raffle winner). Until 6 months ago, none of the crew had any astronaut training.

Named Inspiration4, the crew took the Space Dragon spacecraft to space for a 72 hour trip around Earth. The Space Dragon spacecraft had been used before for sending scientists and astronauts to space, but besides that, this flight is the only other time it was used. Many more missions with the spacecraft have already been booked, including five already planned missions for upcoming months and years. Many other companies such as Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic have similar dreams of one day launching their own civilian flight. However, many challenges, such as the price have to be taken into account. The Inspiration4 flight has a hefty price tag of around 200 million dollars with the specific amount being unknown.

Even so, the Inspiration4 flight was a huge success. “[The flight] was to show that space does not have to remain the exclusive domain of world superpowers … we hope to inspire here on Earth, too” said Isaacman. The flight received massive media attention with more than 3 million people watching the flight live. He also launched a St. Jude fundraiser with a $200 million goal. The fundraiser easily passed its goal with a $50 million donation from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. 

With such a massive accomplishment, the ideas of commercializing space travel are present. “Every mission we find a way to make it even more and more routine, it just has to make a very profound impact on the world. I would say while this is a fortunate place to go, it wouldn’t be really appropriate for my wife or kids in the world of today, but I sure hope it is in the one for tomorrow,” says Isaacman. Space exploration has some potential, but there is a lot of doubt because it is so new and expensive. “Does everyone need to go to space?” asks Timeiebi Aganaba, a researcher of space ethics and law at Arizona State University. “Everyone doesn’t need to go to Mount Everest.” 

Although commercial space travel is still out of reach, innovation will not be lacking. SpaceX and especially the Inspiration4 flight showed that private companies instead of government funding are the new age of space exploration. The innovation resulting from companies competing in space will likely lower the price and lead to cheaper space flights. Other future plans include filming movies in the ISS or having MMA fighters fighting in space. Space exploration is still extremely dangerous, however, and one small misstep could be devastating for the space exploration industry. Even still, the potential for space exploration is immense.

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