Drone Pilot JobsHighlights From SpaceX’s Launch of Inspiration4

September 16, 2021by helo-10

ImageInspiration4 crew member Hayley Arceneaux holds a picture of herself when she was in treatment for cancer at St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
Credit…Bruce Bobbins

The Inspiration4 capsule is transporting a slew of items into space that will be auctioned when the crew returns to Earth to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

The cargo includes the ukulele that Christopher Sembroski, a crew member, will be playing. There are also mission jackets, original artwork and 66 pounds of hops that the Sam Adams brewery will use for the mission’s official beer.

The auction items are posted at stjude.org/inspiration4.

The crew is also carrying up a unique digital file, also known as a NFT, of a live performance by the Kings of Leon of its new song, “Time in Disguise.” That will also be auctioned.

“We’re going to jam to it on orbit,” Hayley Arceneaux, another crew member, said.

The astronauts are also allowed to bring personal items to space.

Ms. Arceneaux is bringing a photo of herself at age 10, when she was going through bone cancer treatment at St. Jude’s, where she now works. She wants to hold the picture in space to give hope to her patients, and other children going through cancer treatment.

“There is a future,” she said. “It gets better.”

Jared Isaacman, the mission’s commander who is paying for the trip, said he is taking custom dragon pendants he had made for his wife and two daughters, in keeping with the theme of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. He said he hopes the items are passed down to future generations of his family.

Mr. Sembroski is taking two pins that belonged to his mother-in-law’s great-grandmother, and Sian Proctor is taking rings her father and mother wore when they were alive. Ms. Proctor is also taking a commemorative coin from Guam from the year she was born, which was given to her by her parents.

About six hours into Inspiration4’s journey, Elon Musk has wished the crew well on Twitter. “It was an honor to wish you Godspeed before you left for orbit!”


Outer space got a little more crowded on Wednesday night.

The four-person crew of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 raised the number of people in space to 14, edging out a record set in 2009 when 13 people lived on the International Space Station after the space shuttle Endeavour docked there.

This year, though, the 14 humans in space are on three separate missions.

Shenzhou-12, from China, is completing a 90-day trip and is carrying three astronauts. And Expedition 65, from NASA, launched in April with a team of seven, who are currently at the space station.

The “Commander & Benefactor” of the Inspiration4 is Jared Isaacman, a high school dropout who became a billionaire founder of a payments processing company. He follows fellow billionaires Richard Branson, the entrepreneur behind the Virgin companies, and Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, who went this year.

Billionaires like them, and the private companies they fund, have made the cost of space travel cheaper, according to Dr. Elliott Bryner, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona. As those costs go down, the number of people who are in space will go up, he said.

“The thing that has been barring us from going to space is cost,” Dr. Bryner said on Wednesday night. “With private launches, the number of people who can go to space will continue to increase.”

“It’s still a millionaire’s game, but at least you don’t have to be a superpower country,” he said.

The Crew Dragon is a gumdrop-shaped capsule — an upgraded version of SpaceX’s original Dragon capsule, which has been used many times to carry cargo. It is roughly comparable in size to the Apollo capsule that took NASA astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and ’70s. Earlier NASA capsules — Mercury and Gemini — were considerably smaller.

The capsule has more interior space than a minivan, but less than a studio apartment. And there is a bathroom. As you can probably imagine, you and some of your friends may be able to pile into a space like that for a brief time, but much longer could become uncomfortable.

So far, NASA’s missions in Crew Dragon have spent no more than about a day orbiting the planet before docking with the space station. Inspiration4’s crew will spend three days aboard.

“It’s like an extended camping trip,” Mr. Sembroski said during Tuesday’s news conference. “You’re in a camper van with some of your closest friends for three days.”

The crew members will be able to pull out sleeping bags “and strap yourself in so you don’t float into each other during the middle of the night,” he said.

“There will be a couple unique challenges maintaining privacy here and there,” Mr. Sembroski said. He said they had received good tips from NASA astronauts who previously traveled to space in the capsule.

“We’ll let you know more about how successful they were when we come back,” Mr. Sembroski said.

While food for spaceflight has made great advancements in quality since the 1960s, dining may not be a highlight of this orbital trip. In the Netflix documentary about Inspiration4, Ms. Arceneaux said during a taste test that she didn’t think she’d eat much in space. SpaceX has also not said who prepared the meals for this mission.

One of the planned meals is cold pizza, Mr. Sembroski revealed during an episode of an Axios podcast that followed their training for the mission.

“The cold pizza better be packed, because that was my order,” Dr. Proctor said on Tuesday. “Food and mood is so important. So I think for us it was really important working with SpaceX to get food that made us feel comfortable.”

The second firing of the Crew Dragon thrusters has completed, leaving the spacecraft and its astronauts in a circular, 363-mile-high orbit. That’s the farthest anyone has been from Earth since the end of the Apollo moon missions.

Since we started waiting for word that the Inspiration4 crew has reached their final orbit, state media from China announced that the astronauts living on China’s nascent space station have begun their return trip to Earth after 90 days in orbit. It’s a busy day in spaceflight.

The Inspiration4 crew will spend a fair amount of their time in orbit helping advance medical research on how the human body reacts to being in space.

For scientists looking to see how the human body adapts to space, the new commercial space travelers will offer a bonanza of new data for them to explore. Professional astronauts have generally been middle-aged and in very good health. Historically, most of them have been white men.

With commercial trips, there could be a more diverse cross-section of humanity. Ms. Arceneaux, at 29, exemplifies those possibilities: She is younger, a cancer survivor and will be the first person in space with a prosthetic — metal rods that were implanted after a tumor was removed from her left leg.

“We’re going to learn some things that are very fundamental,” said Dorit Donoviel, executive director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, which is coordinating research during the Inspiration4 flight.

The crew will take tests originally designed to gauge mental performance of NASA astronauts, and help gather data on how spaceflight affects the vestibular system, or how the human body, particularly the inner ear, maintains balance.

In addition to medical research tasks, the crew members also have more activities planned, some of them fun. Dr. Proctor, for instance, will be making some artwork.

“I’m excited to bring paint and do some art in space, and thinking about the just the fluids and the dynamics of watercolors,” she said.

Mr. Sembroski is bringing up a ukulele and will play and sing in the Crew Dragon.

“I apologize for any ears that are listening intently, but I’ll give it my best shot,” he said. “And I do know the acoustics are pretty good.”

His crewmates seemed a little wary.

“I think it’s more how’s his singing voice to go along with that,” Dr. Proctor said in an interview last week. “But he’s been practicing a lot. And so I’m excited to hear him play. And I think we will all enjoy that.”

Ms. Arceneaux will be talking from space to cancer patients at St. Jude. “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,” she said.

For most of the mission, if nothing goes wrong, the Crew Dragon spacecraft will operate autonomously with the assistance of SpaceX’s mission control at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.

The astronauts’ main task is to monitor the spacecraft’s systems. In the case of malfunctions, however, the crew, especially Mr. Isaacman as the commander and Dr. Proctor as the pilot, have learned how to take over the flying of Resilience.

The Crew Dragon has completed its first thruster firing to put it on an elliptical trajectory moving farther away from Earth.

Credit…John Raoux/Associated Press

Mr. Isaacman has declined to say how much he is paying for this orbital trip, only that it was less than the $200 million he hopes to raise for St. Jude Children’s Hospital with an accompanying fund-raising drive.

Typically when NASA launches astronauts, the agency provides continuous streaming coverage of the flight. We’re waiting to learn what more we’ll hear from the crew aboard the Resilience capsule tonight.

The first thruster firing, lasting 10 minutes, puts the capsule on an elliptical orbit, taking it to a higher altitude. The second firing, about an hour after liftoff, makes the orbit circular at 360 miles above Earth’s surface.

Credit…Agence France-Presse, via Spacex

Those thruster firings will happen over the next couple of hours. The SpaceX broadcast just ended.

The Crew Dragon will be firing its thrusters twice to raise its altitude to 360 miles.

The astronauts just opened up their visors.

Credit…Thom Baur/Reuters

When NASA owned and operated its own spacecraft, there was no chance it would rent out a Saturn 5 rocket or a space shuttle to someone else. But during the Obama administration, NASA decided to hire private companies to take its astronauts to the space station. One of the program’s secondary goals was to spur more commercial use of low-Earth orbit. A decade later, SpaceX can offer trips to people who are not NASA astronauts.

“I’m very bullish on the tourism market and the tourism activity,” Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight development, said during a news conference in May. “I think more people that are going to fly, they’re going to want to do more things in space.”

In addition, the Crew Dragon, built with the latest of technologies, is essentially a self-driving spaceship. When things are working properly, there is very little that the crew has to do to operate the capsule.

The Crew Dragon capsule has separated from the second stage. The Inspiration4 mission is now circling Earth.


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The booster has successfully landed on the floating platform.

The second stage engine has shut down. They are in orbit.

The booster stage fired engines to slow down as it reenters the atmosphere; the second stage continues to push the Crew Dragon to orbit.

Fist bumps in the capsule by the crew.



I’d love to hear that call out trajectory nominal from the guy who’s in there. Also notice we’re really up there now well past 100 kilometers. Acquisition of signal New Hampshire. Just before that view switched, we saw some teammate fist bumps going on there inside of the cabin.

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The booster is now falling back to Earth, headed for a landing on a floating platform in the Atlantic.

Second stage engine is firing.

The booster stage has done its work.

“Looks like a smooth ride for the crew,” John Insprucker, a SpaceX engineer, said over the live video stream.

The roar of the rocket engines just rumbled past the press site.


T-1 minute

Two minutes to go. The rocket should be fully fueled now.

The sun has gone down. But the sky will become bright again when Inspiration4 takes off. It’s hard to appreciate how bright rocket flames are without seeing them directly.

Five minutes to go. This is the quiet before the roar of blastoff.


As the four amateur astronauts head into space, the voice of Sarah Gillis will guide them into orbit.

Ms. Gillis is the lead space operations engineer for SpaceX, and her job includes training the astronauts on all safety aspects and operations of the flight.

Before takeoff, Ms. Gillis wished the crew good luck and a godspeed.

“It has been an absolute honor to prepare you for this historic flight,” she said.

In the Netflix documentary “Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space,” Jared Isaacman, the mission’s commander paying for the trip, described her role as the equivalent of the “CapCom” on a NASA mission. That’s short for “Capsule Communication,” traditionally an astronaut on the ground who speaks with the crew in the spacecraft.

“The burden of ‘Will we execute well or not?’ will really fall on her,” Mr. Isaacman said in the documentary.

Ms. Gillis has been working for months with Mr. Isaacman and the other three astronauts to ensure they’re fully prepared for their trip, down to such details as how to operate a fire extinguisher on the flight.

“There’s two hats that you have to wear to be successful at that,” she said in the documentary. “One is the operational hat, where you need to understand exactly what actions you need to take to keep them safe. On the other aspect, I care very deeply about every single one of these people now.”

Ms. Gillis graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder with an engineering degree. In the Netflix documentary she said she was encouraged to pursue engineering by a high school mentor who was a former astronaut.

Ms. Gillis is also a classically trained violinist who started to learn how to play when she was 2 from her mother, a professional violinist.

“She certainly did not raise me to be an engineer,” she said.

This is not the first crew of astronauts riding in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. In April, Ms. Gillis helped guide NASA’s Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station.

The flight was not without incident, as she had to warn the crew that a piece of space debris was about to come too close to their spacecraft for comfort. The crew was getting ready to go to sleep when she told them to perform a number of safety procedures, including putting their spacesuits back on.

The flight continued to the space station without incident and later analysis showed that it had been a false alarm, and no debris actually passed near the spacecraft.

Credit…Inspiration 4/Reuters

SpaceX trained the Inspiration4 crew in largely the same way it has trained NASA crews.

To prepare themselves for the rigors of spaceflight, the crew members were swung around a large centrifuge at the National Aerospace Training and Research Center in Pennsylvania, simulating the forces they will experience during launch and re-entry into the atmosphere at the end of the mission.

They also made trips in a plane that flies in giant arcs that allow the occupants to feel as if they are in zero-gravity for about half a minute. (Gravity does not turn off; rather, the plane dives at the same rate as the people inside are falling, providing them the illusion that they are floating.)

The four went camping on Mount Rainier in Washington State, part of a team-building exercise organized by Mr. Isaacman.

While the Crew Dragon capsule is automated and usually flies itself, the Inspiration4 crew nonetheless underwent much of the same training as NASA astronauts to handle situations if something goes wrong. That included spending 30 continuous hours in a Crew Dragon simulator.

Mr. Isaacman said the hardest part was the deluge of technical information dumped on them.

“It was a little bit of death by PowerPoint for a couple weeks,” he said during Tuesday’s news conference. “But then it immediately went into kind of the more fun phase where now you’re taking all that knowledge that you’ve accumulated and you’re putting it to practical use.”

The 30-hour-long simulation turned out to be a highlight, not an ordeal.

In weekslong simulations of missions to Mars and the moon that Dr. Proctor had participated in previously, “Sometimes, you know, there’s a crew member you might want to kick out,” she said. “But in this case, there wasn’t any of that. We live together. We operate it together. We have fun together, and it really just made me want to do it again and it got me so excited for when we do it up in orbit.”

T-20 minutes.

Credit…Joe Rimkus Jr/Reuters

The crew is flying on the same spacecraft that NASA uses to take astronauts to orbit. That means the space agency has required it to meet a number of safety standards. In three journeys so far, no significant safety problems have been reported with the spacecraft.

But every journey to space presents dangers from the moment the crew members are sealed into a spacecraft until the moment they safely exit. Astronauts have died on the launchpad (like the Apollo 1 disaster), as they headed to orbit (the space shuttle Challenger) and as they re-entered the atmosphere (the space shuttle Columbia). The Apollo 13 mission’s mishap showed the difficulty in bringing back a crew when the crippled spacecraft is far from Earth.

Three successful trips of a spacecraft also does not mean all potential problems have been discovered and fixed. There were 24 successful space shuttle missions before the loss of Challenger in 1986.

Even the astronauts aboard Crew Dragon have encountered risks. During the latest flight to the space station in April, mission controllers warned the crew that a piece of space debris was about to whiz past. The astronauts put on their spacesuits, got back in their seats and lowered their protective visors. The flight continued to the space station without incident and later analysis showed that it was a false alarm, that no debris actually passed near the spacecraft.

In the days in Florida leading up to the launch, Mr. Isaacman took advantage of his fighter jet experience.

“I also like to look at risk on a relative basis,” Mr. Issacman said during a news conference on Tuesday. “The last couple days, we’ve been tearing up the skies in fighter jets, which I put it relatively higher risk than this mission so that we’re nice and comfortable as we get strapped into Falcon.”

Propellant loading has started. The Falcon 9 rocket uses a highly refined form of kerosene known as RP-1 and liquid oxygen.

The launch escape system has been switched on. In case something goes wrong during propellant loading, the escape system will blast the capsule and the astronauts to safety.

All systems and weather are green, and the flow of propellants should begin in less than eight minutes.

The launch director has given the go-ahead to retract the bridge that the astronauts used to board the capsule and to begin the loading of rocket propellants.

You might be wondering, why is it taking so long to take off? When you board a commercial jetliner, the pilot has to go through a checklist. The same is true for a rocket and spacecraft, except there are many more checks. In addition, the tanks of the Falcon 9 are still empty. The loading of the propellants that lift it does not start until just 35 minutes before liftoff.

Credit…Joe Skipper/Reuters

One hour until liftoff. Countdown continues to proceed smoothly. Weather looks really good. There are hardly any clouds in the sky.

Credit…Getty Images; EPA, via Shutterstock

The SpaceShipTwo space plane built by Virgin Galactic (Richard Branson’s company) and the New Shepard spacecraft built by Blue Origin (Jeff Bezos’ company) make suborbital flights. Mr. Branson traveled above 53 miles, passing the 50-mile-high threshold that the United States Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration consider the edge of space. Mr. Bezos went a bit higher, to 66 miles, above the 62-mile-high altitude regarded as the edge of space by the International Federation of Astronautics.

Once the craft reached the top of their trajectories, they stopped, and then fell back down. Virgin’s space plane glided to a landing. The New Shepard capsule was slowed by parachutes. Both ended up back on the ground, almost where they started, not long after they left.

By contrast, to reach orbit and stay there, a spacecraft must accelerate to a velocity of 17,500 miles per hour. That requires a much bigger rocket and is more dangerous.

Credit…John Kraus/Agence France-Presse, via Inspiration4

For the mission, Mr. Isaacman named the four Crew Dragon seats to reflect positive aspects of humanity: leadership, hope, generosity and prosperity.

“We set out from the start to deliver a very inspiring message,” Mr. Isaacman said during a news conference on Tuesday, “and chose to do that through an interesting crew selection process.”

As commander for Inspiration4, Mr. Isaacman fills the leadership seat.

Mr. Isaacman gave two of the four seats to St. Jude. The hope seat was earmarked for a St. Jude health care worker, and hospital officials chose Ms. Arceneaux, who quickly said yes to the offer.

Another seat, generosity, was raffled off to raise money for the hospital. Mr. Sembroski entered, donating $50, but he did not win the sweepstakes, which helped raise $13 million for St. Jude. A friend of his, though, did — an old college buddy from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. The friend, who remains anonymous, decided not to go to space but, knowing about Mr. Sembroski’s enthusiasm, transferred the prize to him.

“I think that just really puts me in a very special spot,” Mr. Sembroski said, “where not only do I feel very lucky to be here but I have a huge responsibility to pay that forward and show that generosity towards others, and to bring that message to everyone else.”

The last seat, prosperity, was the prize in a contest run by Mr. Isaacman’s company, Shift4 Payments. Contestants used the company’s software to design an online store and then tweeted videos describing their entrepreneurial and space dreams. (Using the software, Dr. Proctor started selling her space-related artwork, and in her video, she read a poem that she wrote.)

Leak checks confirm that the seal around the hatch is good.

The hatch is closed.



There on your screen, we can see the pad close-out team closing the side hatch, which is one of the last visual things that we’ll see here in the crew access arm. The crew looks so excited. I think every little milestone, even if it’s within five minutes, they get very excited. And I think they know what to expect. They’ve practiced this so many times. This is the real — This is the real thing right now. So this is the real hatch closure before they lift off.

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The SpaceX technicians have to make sure that the seal is tight with no debris trapped in there.

Even closing the door of the capsule is a slow process.

SpaceX is releasing balloons to measure high-altitude winds. So far, the weather looks great.

Considering that they’ll soon be traveling at 17,500 miles per hour, there’s a lot of sitting around for now. Still more than 2 hours until liftoff.

Credit…Chandan Khanna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

When he announced Inspiration4 in February, Mr. Isaacman said he wanted it to be more than an extraterrestrial jaunt for rich people like him. He reached out to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, which treats children at no charge and develops cures for childhood cancers as well as other diseases. Mr. Isaacman offered to use the mission as a fund-raising vehicle for St. Jude, setting a $200 million target.

“If you’re going to accomplish all those great things out in space, all that progress, then you have an obligation to do some considerable good here on Earth, like making sure you conquer childhood cancer along the way,” he said.

So far, more than $130 million has been raised including the $100 million that Mr. Isaacman is personally donating to St. Jude.

“We are elated with where we are from a fund-raising perspective,” said Richard C. Shadyac Jr., the president of ALSAC, the fund-raising organization for St. Jude. “I couldn’t be more pleased. We’ll continue to strive for that $200 million goal.”

The capsule seats rotated upward so the astronauts are in a more horizontal position to absorb the forces of liftoff. They’re about 6 minutes ahead of schedule.



Everybody is anchored in the seat with the belts. We’ve done final checks, make sure they are all buttoned up and ready to go. And what we’re going to do now is send command of the motor actuators under the seat. It’ll rotate the four crew – Chris there on the left, having a little fun there – that’ll rotate them up into the launch position, which also gets them access to the launch displays that are overhead. I think right now they’re also just waving out through the hatch at the ingress team that is now moved out of the way to make sure. And now the seats are rotated.

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Credit…Joe Skipper/Reuters

Unlike the missions that SpaceX flies for NASA, Inspiration4 is not going to the space station. Instead, the Resilience capsule will orbit Earth for three days at an altitude of up to 360 miles. That is about 150 miles higher than the International Space Station.

This flight path makes Inspiration4 more like some of NASA’s Mercury and Gemini missions during the 1960s that preceded the Apollo missions to the moon. It is also reminiscent of space shuttle flights before the construction of the space station.

Because Inspiration4 is not going to the space station, that allowed for a major modification to Resilience. SpaceX removed the docking port from the top of the capsule and installed a glass dome that will allow the crew to get a 360-degree view of space. It will be the largest contiguous window ever to be flown in space. There is also a camera that will take pictures of the crew members peering into space.

The four crew members of Inspiration4 will be inside a Crew Dragon capsule built by SpaceX. The capsule will launch on top of one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets.

It’s the exact same system that is used to take NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. Indeed, the capsule they are riding in, named Resilience, was used for a NASA mission that launched in November last year. It returned to Earth in May and was refurbished for the Inspiration4 mission.

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