It was what everyone hoped for, a successful splashdown of the Inspiration4 all civilian crew after a three day mission that forever changed how we think of spaceflight.
Jared Issacman had a goal, fly in space and raise funds for a cause he believed in. He achieved both.
Isaacman, the quiet, yet sure CEO of Shift4 Payments, wasn’t well known to those outside his business community, that is until now. But as the ongoing Netflix series on the Inspiration4 mission has shown us, he is a strong capable leader, meticulous in his execution of ideas and supportive of his teammates.
The Inspiration4 mission may have fulfilled Issacman’s dream of spaceflight but I wonder what’s next. It seems unlikely he will be content with one taste of space. Will he start a space enterprise of some sort?
As for the fundraising campaign, there he also succeeded in raising over US$200M. After splashdown Elon Musk Tweeted “Count me in for $50M.” That along with Isaacman’s original US$100M donation and another approximate US$60M from the public at large, and the total raised was around US$210M.
Enter the Dragon
The Inspiration4 mission has forever changed our perception of space. And for that we can in part thank Isaacman, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and the wider SpaceX team.
In a statement after splashdown SpaceX posted this statement: “After three days orbiting Earth, Dragon and the Inspiration4 crew – the world’s first civilian mission to orbit – safely splashed down off the coast of Florida at 7:06 p.m. EDT on Saturday, September 18, 2021, completing their first multi-day low Earth orbit mission.”
“Dragon performed a series of departure phasing burns to leave the circular orbit of 575 kilometers and then jettisoned its trunk ahead of its deorbit burn. After re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, the spacecraft deployed its two drogue and four main parachutes in preparation for the soft water landing.”
“Upon splashdown, the Inspiration4 astronauts were welcomed home by the SpaceX team and quickly brought on board the recovery vessel. SpaceX transported Dragon back to Cape Canaveral for inspections and refurbishment ahead of future human spaceflight missions.”
Each sentence mentions the crew Dragon spacecraft. And it’s that spacecraft and the technology that SpaceX engineers have developed that’s a game changer.
On this mission Isaacman was the Commander and he is an experienced pilot. As well, Dr. Proctor is a pilot, though not as experienced as Isaacman. And while their skills were no doubt important, the reality is that the autonomous systems of the Dragon spacecraft, with support from mission control if needed, could have performed the mission without pilots.
There is no spacecraft more capable than the crew Dragon. And spaceflight is not easy. In a pre-launch interview at Kennedy Space Center, a SpaceX spokesperson interviewed astronaut Charlie Bolden, NASA’s former administrator, and a former United States Marine Corps Major General about his thoughts on spaceflight. In part he said that while some people might use the word “routine,” it’s not a word he likes to use. The reason is that spaceflight is hard, spacecraft are complicated machines, rockets have thousands of components, and while it may look routine, it’s not. Which makes what SpaceX is doing all the more impressive.
First it was reusing a second stage, then the fairing, and now the Dragon spacecraft. After the Inspiration4 crew returned to Earth, Musk said to make an humanity a multi-planetary species a reality the complete rocket and spacecraft have to be reusable. And he’s right. We’ve all seen countless science fiction movies where that’s the case. Musk and SpaceX want to make what we see in the movies a reality, at least in a small way. If anyone can do it, SpaceX can. Perhaps someone else might beat them to it, but for now, they are the leaders in spaceflight.
Remember this past week when thinking of the history of human spaceflight. History was made and who knows who was inspired enough to become the next great leader who will forever change our world.