KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – Given the chance, would you strap into the seat of a rocket filled with thousands of pounds of fuel and wait for T-minus zero knowing if just one thing goes wrong there is no return? You’re not an astronaut with years of training, you’re a regular person with a day job that doesn’t include rocket science.
In the next year, about a dozen nonprofessional astronauts will take that chance and it starts with the Inspiration4 mission launching from Kennedy Space Center.
SpaceX has been paid by Shift4Payment CEO Jared Isaacman to launch four civilians into low-Earth orbit on a multi-day trip. Three of those passengers just learned they’d be going less than seven months ago.
It’s the first time everyday people will make up the entirety of a space crew.
This is very different than the 10-minute, sub-orbital trips like what Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are attempting to do with paying customers. The Inspiration4 mission is an orbital rocket launch from Kennedy Space Center taking four humans into space beyond the International Space Station orbit for three days.
Each of the four Inspiration4 crew members has a different reason for being on board this mission with a unique story of how they got to this moment. Each passenger also represents a different virtue: Leadership, Hope, Generosity and Prosperity.
Despite repeated requests by WKMG to interview the crew the Inspiration4 mission did not make them available for this story.
Read on to learn about the all-civilian crew.
Leadership: Jared Isaacman, mission commander
Isaacman is the 38-year-old founder and CEO of a company called Shift4Payment. As a teen, he dropped out of high school and got his GED after getting a full-time job offer.
Later, he founded United Bank Card, a payment processing company, now called Shift4Payment. He also co-owns a company based in Florida that trains pilots for the U.S. Armed Forces and as a result, he owns a fleet of fighter jets. He also has his pilot’s license and holds several world records, including two Speed-Around-The-World flights in 2008 and 2009.
In February 2021, Isaacman and his company launched a contest putting out a call for anyone in the U.S. to win a flight to outer space.
“We’re calling the mission Inspiration4. We chose this name because the principal mission objective is to inspire,” Isaacman said in the Netflix documentary about the mission. “The number 4 is symbolic for several reasons. There will be 4 crew members on the spacecraft. And it will the 4th manned mission from the US since the Space Shuttle was retired almost a decade ago.”
Axios space reporter Miriam Kramer explained how the contest and the mission came about from Isaacman’s idea.
“It was entirely sort of his vision. So instead of picking three other buddies of his to fly to space, he instead decided to basically put together kind of this like ragtag team of almost random people to go with him to orbit,” Kramer said. “It’s a very different method than ... NASA astronauts (who) trained for years and are vetted in many, many different ways. But this was all on an incredibly accelerated timescale and with just average folks, like civilians.”
Kramer knows a lot about the mission and the crew because she’s been interviewing them for almost the whole duration of their training for her podcast about the mission.
Hope: Hayley Arceneaux, mission medical officer
Hayley Arceneaux, a physician’s assistant with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, was chosen to represent the virtue of hope before the nationwide contest even launched. She was selected by St. Jude after Isaacman approached the hospital about using the mission to fundraise for childhood cancer research.
Arceneaux was diagnosed with bone cancer at 10 and went to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for treatment. At 29, she will now be the youngest person to fly to orbital space and the first with a prosthetic. Here’s Arcenaux talking to CBS News:
“We’re going to call the St. Jude patients from space,” Arceneux told CBS News in May. “They’re going to see somebody that has been in their shoes who also fought childhood cancer can also go to space and I think it’s going to show them what they’re capable of.”
Kramer said her journey has made her incredibly strong.
“Her crew members describe her as tough as nails. Also, she’s very sweet. She’s very encouraging,” Kramer said. “But she’s also tough, she’s been through a lot and she’s doing this for a reason. Like she’s doing this because she believes in the St. Jude mission and she believes in what this can say to, you know, other kids who have cancer.”
Prosperity: Dr. Sian Proctor, mission pilot
After the contest deadline closed, a panel of judges selected the Prosperity seat.
Dr. Sian Proctor, 51, a geoscience professor and science communicator, was chosen out of the entrepreneurs for her pitch to go to space.
Proctor has been dreaming of space exploration since she was a child. She was born in Guam while her father was working at a NASA tracking station during the Apollo missions.
Proctor has also served as an analog astronaut in simulated space conditions here on Earth, completing four missions. In 2009, she was a finalist for the NASA Astronaut Program.
Hello everyone, thank you for supporting my #SpaceArt & #Poetry journey. I hope you’ll check out my @Shift4Shop: https://t.co/pUOcwAwmE1 & help share my #inspiration4contest message & #poem. Let’s unleash our #Space2inspire & create a J.E.D.I. future for all of humanity. ❤️🌍👩🏾🚀🚀 pic.twitter.com/JzRf6ayGcL— Dr. Sian “Leo” Proctor (@DrSianProctor) February 26, 2021
“She has this incredible story ... she actually made it to sort of one of the final rounds for of NASA astronauts election and was not chosen. And she’s always had this dream of becoming an astronaut. And private spaceflight to her is sort of the way that you get there now. And that’s what she’s doing,” Kramer said of Proctor.
Kramer said Proctor had given up on her dream, but now she’s living it.
“You can really see that when you talk to her ... she is so excited and so prepared,” Kramer said. “(Sian) knows the material in and out, she clearly is in her element when she’s training with SpaceX. It’s kind of amazing to watch because it feels like you’re watching someone who is literally living a dream that they never thought they would get to live. So that’s what we are watching. It’s very cool.”
Generosity: Chris Sembroski
The Generosity seat was essentially chosen at random from people who had donated to St. Jude, but it wasn’t 42-year-old Chris Sembroski who was selected.
About 70,000 people entered the contest by donating during the raffle that was announced during the 2021 Super Bowl.
“The interesting thing with Chris is actually that someone else was picked out of the hat. And for one reason or another, they weren’t able to go and embark on the training. So they had worked with Jared to actually pick Chris,” Kramer said, adding the husband and father of two is “the guy who got the golden ticket.”
Sembroski is an engineer in the aerospace industry in Everett, Washington. He also happens to be a big space nerd, Kramer said. He served in the U.S. Air Force, including a tour in Iraq. He later graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
According to his mission biography, he was a U.S. Space Camp counselor and “supported STEM-based education designed to inspire young minds to explore these areas and find their passions.”
In the Netflix documentary about the mission, Sembroski talked about his passion for space.
“Growing up I was in math competitions and went to a math and science high school. So I’ve always been someone who loves space and rockets. But I’ve never thought that I’d actually have a chance to go to space,” Sembroski said.
SpaceX is planning to launch the Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 15 during a 5-hour window that opens at 8:02 p.m.
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