First All-Civilian Private Space Flight to Launch This Year


By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

On Monday, SpaceX announced that it would launch the first all-civilian crew to space this year, with no training or assistance from NASA or another government agency.  Leading the four-person mission will be billionaire Jared Isaacman, an experienced pilot and CEO of e-commerce company Shift4.  One seat will be raffled off to someone who donates to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, while another will go to a St. Jude ambassador. The final seat will be given to an entrepreneur who wins a Shark-Tank-style competition run by Shift4.

Why this Matters: This publicity stunt is meant to suggest that the goal of space tourism — to bring ordinary citizens to outer space — is nearer than we think. Last week, another private company, Axiom Space, announced its crew for the company’s first mission to the International Space Station, which will take off in 2022. Each seat on this mission cost $55 million, in keeping with previous space flights, which is too expensive for the average consumer. But, the fact that private space flights are beginning suggests that space travel will become commercialized, and thus attainable to civilians who can afford the ticket.

A New Space Race

The Inspiration4 mission paints a picture of the contemporary space race, which is being enacted by private companies rather than governments. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, Axiom, Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX are competing to reach milestones in space travel: Axiom will be the first private company that takes civilians to the International Space Station, while Blue Origin (owned by Jeff Bezos) announced that it will put the first woman on the moon.

NASA was initially hostile to commercial space travel but has reversed its stance during the Trump administration when Trump proposed ending federal financing of the International Space Station by the end of 2024. Seeing that federal funding for space research could be volatile, NASA has begun to work with private companies on space tourism and other potentially profitable ventures to secure funding for research projects.

It remains unclear whether space tourism will be a viable business or how the privatization of space travel will affect our relationship with the cosmos. The winners of the Inspiration4 raffle will be announced in about a month and will be fitted for spacesuits and begin training.

Jared Isaacman, the commander of the Space-X flight, said in a statement: “I appreciate the tremendous responsibility that comes with commanding this mission and I want to use this historic moment to inspire humanity while helping to tackle childhood cancer here on Earth.”

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