SpaceX’s surprisingly secret Inspiration4 mission is a major letdown


The Inspiration4 crew inside the Crew Dragon.

The Inspiration4 crew inside the Crew Dragon.
Picture: Inspiration4

Inspiration4’s all-civilian crew has been in orbit for almost two days, but we’ve heard very little about what’s going on up there. SpaceX’s first private crewed mission to space was almost certainly this one – private. The surprisingly muffled approach made it anything but inspiring.

Inspiration4 spear at 8:02 p.m. EDT Wednesday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Resilience Crew Dragon, nestled atop a Falcon 9 rocket, embarked on a three-day orbit mission with an exclusively private crew – and not a single NASA astronaut in sight. With the launch, SpaceX officially entered the space tourism industry, joining Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. Jared Isaacman, Sian Proctor, Chris Sembroski and Hayley Arceneaux will now go down in history as the first private crew sent into Earth orbit.

SpaceX has gone to great lengths to make this futuristic luxury cruise as critically safe as possible. The optics are about perfect, as the Inspiration4 mission – with two men and two women – is supposed to raise $ 200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. And the accomplishments are truly headline-grabbing, as the trip features the first black woman to pilot a spaceship and the first person to go into space with a prosthetic body part, Arceneaux, who is also a cancer survivor.

The view of Earth from the dragon's dome.  This is one of only four photos released to date, showing the crew inside the Crew Dragon.

The view of Earth from the dragon’s dome. This is one of only four photos released to date, showing the crew inside the Crew Dragon.
Picture: Inspiration4

Now don’t get me wrong: these are all undeniably impressive and laudable things, but there’s no doubt that the real purpose of the mission, which is for SpaceX to set the stage for future high-cost flights. The company run by Elon Musk has finally plans to charge $ 50 million per seat for these trips; Isaacman, the billionaire founder of Shift4 Payments, paid an undisclosed amount for the four Inspiration4 seats.

To be clear, I’m not opposed to all of space tourism, and I wish SpaceX and its employees good luck. What bothers me, however, is how the company, as well as a surprising number of media and space experts, define the mission as something that will make spaceflight more accessible to the masses. public. As an example, the Washington Post recently cited Alan Ladwig, director of To Orbit Productions, said that “the Inspiration4 mission is of particular importance because three of the crew are not rich” and they are “people who could be our neighbors, people you went to school with, people you work with. “

Leave me alone. In the future, ultra-wealthy individuals are unlikely to manually select ordinary people to join them on similar missions. And even if they do, we’re still talking about a tiny number of people, given the huge costs involved; you had better play the lottery, but again you need to make sure the jackpot is huge enough.

Eventually, in a long, long time, ordinary people could afford quick sojourns in space. For now, it’s still out of reach, hence my interest in the Inspiration4 mission and why I’m so disappointed with the way things turned out.

Because I can’t go to space yet, I was hoping to at least experience the mission vicariously through the eyes of a civilian crew. We obviously have the technology to make it happen, whether it’s regular tweets, live cams, interviews with the team, or a constant stream of stunning photos and videos.

But what we have so far is very little. A Tweeter from SpaceX on September 16 informed us that the crew are “healthy, happy and resting comfortably” and that before going to bed they “have completed their first round of scientific research and enjoyed a few meals” .

A short video of the dragon’s cupola – a glass dome from which the crew can see their surroundings – was also released on Thursday, and today we had the chance to four photos showing the crew inside the Crew Dragon.

There is also a Tweeter Inspiration4 confirming that the crew responded to patient questions in St. Jude, but no video or transcript of the session was provided. The crew released sound into orbit Spotify Playlist and also was talking to Musk, which is good for them, but who cares. Oh, we also heard that Isaacman did some sports betting space and won some money, which he will donate to charity. I have to say that sports betting was not quite what I expected from this assignment, and it is sad to think that this was among the few information we received.

After reaching out to SpaceX and Inspiration4 for more information, a PR firm representing the mission responded, “We will not be capturing live, but will continue to share resources and updates as they occur. are sent to us ”, and that I should just follow the updates on the Inspiration4 website. On this last point, the news section The Inspiration4 website has not been updated since launching Wednesday.

Looking around the web, it’s clear that other posts are experiencing similar frustrations.

“Little information has been released since launch on the crew’s activities, which are the subject of an exclusive Netflix documentary,” writing the BBC. In conversation with Musk, Spaceflight Now is William Harwood noted there was “no immediate word on what they talked about nor any details of the progress of the historic mission.” To which he added: “Unlike NASA space flights, in which space-to-ground communications between astronauts and flight controllers are carried out in the open, there has been no public radio traffic with the Inspiration4 crew and no downlink photography or video since arriving. orbit Wednesday after launch from Kennedy Space Center. Harwood’s article came out ahead of the release of the four new photos, but his point still stands.

And it’s not like there’s nothing to cover. The crew don’t just float the capsule – they’re supposed to eat cold pizza, play the ukulele, take in spectacular views of Earth and space, and perform a multitude of health science experiments. I very much hoped to watch all of this, and while it was happening.

Alas, we come to the likely reason for the silent treatment: the aforementioned Netflix docuseries. The crew spend a good chunk of their time in space collecting videos for the fifth and final episode of the series, which is probably why we see so few of them. They have to keep all the good stuff a secret, put it in the production wringer, and then pack it up for the public at a later date, that date being September 30. What makes this particularly frustrating is that Netflix has promised to cover the mission in “near real time, and I don’t believe that is happening.

Some of you may quibble that I have to be patient and see all the right things in due course. But for me, it’s not the same. I was hoping to connect with this interesting crew as the mission unfolded, but instead we’re in the dark. And that sucks.

Update: SpaceX tweeted this afternoon the crew will provide a live update tonight which is a welcome development.

Following: Smoke detector sounds alarm in Russian segment of International Space Station.

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