KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – A college professor who thought her dream of becoming an astronaut would never happen, a woman who survived childhood cancer, an engineer who plays the ukulele and a billionaire jet flyer will soon join the exclusive club of those who have orbited Earth.
SpaceX hosted a media call with the Inspiration4 crew just over 24 hours before the four civilians plan to strap into a Falcon 9 rocket and blast off from Kennedy Space Center. The launch is scheduled to happen after 8:02 p.m. Wednesday during a 5-hour launch window.
Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, Dr. Sian Proctor and Chris Sembroski will become the first non-NASA astronauts to launch from the Space Coast.
Proctor, who was chosen after a national competition hosted by Isaacman, will become the fourth Black woman in space and be the first Black female spacecraft pilot. The 51-year-old geoscience professor from Arizona wants to share a message with the next generation.
“I have this opportunity to not only accomplish my dream, but also inspire, and inspire the next generation of women of color and girls of color and really get them to think about reaching for the stars, and what that means,” she said.
Proctor said she will carry the legacy of Challenger Astronaut Christa McAuliffe, as being the first educator in space. Proctor will be bringing several art mediums with her to try in space, including markers and watercolor.
Being the first also comes with added pressure during training for the mission, pressure Proctor said she has felt all her life.
“Growing up as a Black female and always trying to be a high achiever and not mess up,” Proctor said. “And so just having that pressure on yourself, of thinking about not wanting to be eliminated not wanting to miss out, make sure you’re the best of the best, because you’re opening up the door for the people who follow you, and a lot of times if you’re in a position of a role model, if you slip or you mess up, then it means that you’re kind of shutting the door for those behind you.”
She hopes people watching the launch can realize it’s never too late to achieve your childhood dreams at any age.
“We’re writing the narrative of human spaceflight right now so when we do that we need to think about Jedi space, a just equitable diverse and inclusive space, for all of humanity because you know we’re on starship Earth and we want to bring everybody along with us,” Proctor said.
Inspiration4 mission medical officer Hayley Arceneaux, a St. Jude physician’s assistant, will become the youngest person at 29 years old to orbit the Earth. She will also be the first with a prosthetic in space. As a pediatric cancer survivor, this mission represents a milestone for every child facing that uphill battle now but also for anyone.
“I’m really honored to be representing kids with cancer and childhood cancer survivors but, you know, everyone in life has been dealt a certain hand, everyone’s had to overcome something, and I hope that those who are in the process of overcoming something can look to me and see the importance of holding on to hope because I firmly believe that there are better days and you don’t know what’s around the corner,” Arceneaux said.
The four crew will spend three days in orbit, reaching an altitude of 575 kilometers, or 357 miles, above Earth. This altitude is above the International Space Station which orbits Earth about 260 miles above and above the Hubble Space Telescope at 335 miles.
Sembroski said he’s bringing his ukulele to play a tune in space. He was awarded his Dragon seat after entering a raffle hosted by Isaacman’s company Shift4Payment. He actually didn’t win but a friend of his did and couldn’t go. The winner worked with the mission to nominate Sembroski to take his spot.
“I’ve been just thinking about how lucky I am to be a part of this crew to be a part of this mission from watching a Super Bowl commercial and making a donation to not winning that and then having my friend win it, and then through his generosity, give that spot to me,” Sembroski said. “I think that just really puts me in a very special spot where not only do we I feel very lucky to be here but I have a huge responsibility to, you know, pay that forward and show generosity towards others, and to bring that message to everyone else.”
The 42-year-old father of two from Washington said he hopes to inspire his two daughters who have been following his months of training at SpaceX.
Outside of a little stage fright for his concert in space, Sembroski said he’s not worried about the dangerous mission ahead.
In addition to intensive training at SpaceX to learn to operate the spacecraft, Isaacman brought the three other crew members along on several adventures over the past six months to prepare for their time together in space, including flying fighter jets. The Shift4Payment CEO also owns a fleet of jets and is a pilot.
“So in the last couple days we’ve been tearing up the skies in some fighter jets which I put at relatively higher risk than this mission so that we’re nice and comfortable as we get strapped into Falcon,” Isaacman said.
While in space, the crew will be taking swabs to learn about the microbiome and how that changes in spaceflight and will be performing ultrasounds.
Proctor said the crew selected some comfort foods to bring along, her pick was cold pizza.
Sembroski said he’s looking at the three-day trip like a camping trip with some “unique challenges.” The NASA astronauts who flew on the spacecraft last for the Crew-1 mission to the space station gave the Inspiraiton4 team some pointers for navigating a small space.
All of the crew said they are most looking forward to experiencing weightlessness and looking through the Dragon spacecraft’s cupola.
The Dragon’s nosecone normally has a docking ring underneath but because this spacecraft won’t be going to the International Space Station this time it will open to revealing a new cupola the astronauts can lookout.
“It just takes the place of the docking adapter since we’re not taking it anywhere, it makes sense to have a cupola and have the biggest contiguous windows ever been put in space, but otherwise it’s the same, very safe Dragon that we’re flying right now for NASA crews,” SpaceX director of human spaceflight Benji Reed said.
Isaacman said the large window was not a request he made but something SpaceX did on its own. There is a camera on the nosecone that will show the crew as they look through the bubble-like window.
The countdown to launch begins Wednesday about three hours before liftoff.
About 300 Inspiration4 contest finalists were invited by St. Jude and the mission to watch the launch in person in Port Canaveral.