Science

Mission Inspiration4: possibly the first in a long series

The first space tourism mission, a three-day trip around Earth, aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, ended as planned on Saturday, September 18. The capsule made a soft landing off the coast of Florida at 11:06 pm GMT, bringing its four satisfied passengers to reality after a mind-blowing experience.

“Their mission has shown the world that space is for all of us and that ordinary people can have an extraordinary impact on the world around them,” said Kris Young, director of space operations for SpaceX Mission Control. “It was an incredible race for everyone. We couldn’t ask for a more successful mission, ”added Inspiration4 mission director Kip O’Keefe at the press conference that followed the capsule’s return.

During the flight, the crew traveled up to an altitude of 590 km according to SpaceX, which closely followed the evolution of its spacecraft. During these three days, in addition to benefiting from an exceptional view of our planet, the four crewmembers carried out a series of medical experiments, involving the collection of samples and data, which will help researchers better understand how microgravity affects the human being. body. But if the Inspiration4 mission has just ended, tourist trips to space will undoubtedly increase in the coming months.

Two more tourist trips planned for this year

Remember that the experience is not really new. From 2001 to 2009, a total of seven people (including a woman), with no specific qualifications except that they were extremely wealthy, had already made a trip to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a spacecraft. Russian space Soyuz. These flights, which cost between 20 and 35 million dollars, orchestrated by the Space Adventures company, each time involved a “tourist”, accompanied by two Russian cosmonauts; This handful of citizens was thus able to spend a few days aboard the space station.

But since Guy Laliberté’s stay in September 2009, no other tourists had returned to orbit. Until Inspiration4 took off last week, as the first mission without professional astronauts on board. And it is a safe bet that other tourist trips will not be long in coming.

In just a few days, on October 5, director Klim Shipenko and actress Yulia Peresild are scheduled to fly to the ISS aboard a Soyuz, which will be commanded by cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov. If all goes according to plan, Shipenko and Peresild will spend about a week and a half at the station, filming some scenes for a Russian movie called The Challenge. Russia’s federal space agency Roscosmos is a partner in the project, along with Russian channel Channel One and Moscow-based film studio Yellow, Black and White.

And they won’t be the last hobbyist astronauts to join space this year! Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and video producer Yozo Hirano (who will document the event) are expected to take off in December aboard a Soyuz, accompanied by cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, for a trip organized by Space Adventures. According to Roscosmos, they should spend 12 days on the ISS. In other words, Maezawa has also “reserved” his place for a much more ambitious journey: a flight around the Moon on board scheduled for 2023, aboard SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft.

Travel for the rich and famous

Starting in January 2022, three entrepreneurs will join the ISS aboard a Crew Dragon, as part of the Ax-1 mission organized by the Axiom Space company; Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut, has been hired by Axiom to lead this mission. In addition, the company has already signed an agreement with SpaceX for three more similar flights, which will take place over the next two years. Fun fact: Two of these flights will involve a crew member selected during a reality TV show (“Space Hero” and “Who Wants to Be an Astronaut,” aired on the Discovery Channel).

Another significant event to come: the first spacewalk by a private citizen. This should be offered by Space Adventures during a mission to the ISS scheduled for 2023.

At the same time, suborbital space tourism is also booming. The two industry experts Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have already completed manned space flights and are preparing for regular commercial flights in the coming months. If the altitude is reduced compared to the flights offered by Space Adventures and SpaceX, the cost of the ticket will be so low; but it will still take $ 450,000 to fill a seat aboard VSS Unity, the Virgin Galactic space plane. Blue Origin has not yet disclosed its prices, but they should be at least equivalent to its competitor’s. By comparison, NASA spends nearly $ 55 million for each Crew Dragon seat during missions to the ISS …

Therefore, space tourism, whether suborbital or orbital, will likely remain reserved for a handful of the privileged for some time.

Space.com

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