Netflix has announced plans for a documentary that will delve deep into SpaceX’s historic Inspiration4 private astronaut launch.
Led by billionaire and Shift4 CEO and founder Jared Isaacman, Inspiration4 was first announced in February 2021 as SpaceX’s first private Crew Dragon mission. More importantly, the mission – if successful – will make history the first completely private astronaut to be launched into space history when it launches four private citizens later this year.
Launched as early as September 15, perhaps just two months after Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin (in) famous duel-manned suborbital debuts, SpaceX will hopefully show the world what space tourism actually is. Unlike Blue and Virgin, which has been working for a decade to develop suborbital tourist cars that will never go more than ~ 20% of the way to useful spaceflight, SpaceX̵
In the process of preparing for their roles in the world’s first privately manned spacecraft, all four Inspiration4 crew members have been training for several months to ensure they are reasonably knowledgeable and comfortable with real spaceflight. It includes operation and stay in Crew Dragon – a nominal autonomous spacecraft that can still require manual intervention in emergencies.
Although Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin tourists undoubtedly face significant danger on their suborbital journeys, as evidenced by a deadly SpaceShipTwo test flight in 2014, they are usually only a few minutes away from help. Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo vehicles are transported to the launch point of an aircraft and are technically a glider themselves, while Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule can abort at any time during the rocket’s relatively relaxed ride to ~ 100 km (~ 62 mi) and Mach 4 (~ 3000 mph). Save for the pilots who fly SpaceShipTwo, none of the passengers are in any position to influence the outcome of an aircraft if something should go wrong.
In orbit, however, the high altitude and speed at which astronauts and their spacecraft move means that “help” is either hours away, limited to a remote “mission control” or, at worst, exclusively inside the car itself. Simply put, an orbital spacecraft with minimally trained tourists as “crew” will always increase the risk of a scenario where something goes wrong and something could have been made on the runway to avert disaster, but those on board have too little training to save themselves.
As such, although the Crew Dragon is designed to fly with zero human intervention, the spacecraft has only completed three man-shots and two crews again – not exactly the kind of test size you can bet on. Of course, the Falcon 9 is an extremely reliable rocket, and Crew Dragon has proven itself well over its two-year career. The spacecraft also has a built-in abortion system that can possibly bring the crew to safety at any time from the launch pad to orbit.
But given the low cost of a few months of hard work and the inconvenience of trying to save their own lives in a admittedly unlikely emergency, it is likely that private astronauts (orbital space tourists) will undergo significant training in the years to come.