Billionaire appoints team to ride SpaceX, no pros allowed


All it takes is luck and a dream, and a 38-year-old billionaire.

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Jared Isaacman on Tuesday announced the names of the last two passengers to accompany him on a three-day rocket ride around Earth.

By purchasing the ride from SpaceX – the company started by fellow billionaire Elon Musk – Mr. Isaacman and his passengers will be the first to orbit the planet without the presence of a professional astronaut from NASA or another agency. spatial.

The happy recipients? Sian Proctor, 51, a community university professor from Tempe, Ariz., And Christopher Sembroski, 41, of Everett, Wash., Who works on data engineering for Lockheed Martin. Both have always been passionate about space.

“The stars have really lined up for us when it comes to this group,” said Isaacman, who announced the purchase of the trip on February 1.

The capsule and its occupants will circle the Earth at an altitude of 335 miles, about 80 miles above the orbit of the International Space Station. The launch date, originally slated for October, could be as early as September 15, Isaacman said.

When planning the mission, Mr. Isaacman had several goals.

He said he wanted to give non-billionaires a chance to hitchhike. And he wanted to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, which treats children for cancer and other illnesses free of charge, including a raffle for one of the Crew Dragon seats. Mr Isaacman also said he hopes this space crew will be more diverse than those who have been to space in the past, mostly white males.

He seems to have succeeded.

Last month, Mr. Isaacman and St. Jude announced that a seat would go to Hayley Arceneaux, a former patient of St. Jude, who now works there as a medical assistant. Ms. Arceneaux, 29, will be the youngest American to travel to space and the first person to have a prosthetic part of the body. (While being treated for bone cancer, some of the bones in her left leg were replaced with metal rods.)

Credit…St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, via Reuters

Dr Proctor, who is African American with a doctorate in science education, joined him in winning a competition sponsored by Mr Isaacman’s company, Shift4 Payments. Candidates used the company’s software to design an online store, then tweeted videos describing their dreams of entrepreneurship and space. (Using the software, Dr. Proctor began selling her space-related artwork, and in his video, she is reading a poem she wrote.)

Dr Proctor had almost become an old-fashioned astronaut. She said that in 2009, she was one of 47 finalists selected by NASA from 3,500 nominations. The space agency chose nine new astronauts that year. Dr. Proctor was not one of them.

She applied twice more and was not even among the finalists. When NASA announced another round of requests last year, Dr Proctor succeeded.

“I said, ‘No’, because I just feel like that door closed,” she said. “But I was really hopeful that in my life maybe some commercial space would be available for me. Never in a million years would I have imagined it would come like this and so quickly.

She’s had practice. In 2013, Dr. Proctor was one of six people who lived for four months in a small building on the side of a Hawaiian volcano, as part of a NASA-funded experiment to study isolation and the stress of a long trip to Mars.

Mr Sembroski said he heard about Mr Isaacman’s mission, called Inspiration4, in an ad during this year’s Super Bowl.

“It was just a little intriguing,” he said. “And so it’s like, ‘Alright, I’m going to donate to St. Jude and throw my name in the hat to see what happens.'”

Sembroski said he thought he donated $ 50, but did not win the contest, which raised $ 13 million for St. Jude. A friend, however, who ends up winning – a former college pal from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. The friend, who remains anonymous, decided not to go to space but, knowing Mr. Sembroski’s enthusiasm, transferred the prize to him.

Mr. Sembroski learned he won the Crew Dragon seat through a video call with Mr. Isaacman and his friend.

“I just said, ‘Wow. Is that so? Wow. It’s amazing, ”Sembroski said.

Mr. Sembroski was “very reserved at first,” said Isaacman. “He was almost in shock.”

When the call was over, Mr. Sembroski went upstairs. “I said to my wife, ‘So yeah, I just hung up and, uh, I’m going to be rocket. And she looked at me. What did she say?”

He added: “My oldest daughter said, ‘Really, daddy? It’s really cool.'”

While in college, Mr. Sembroski worked as a counselor at Space Camp, an educational program in Huntsville, Alabama that gives children and families a taste of life as an astronaut. He also volunteered for ProSpace, a nonprofit advocacy group that pushed to open up the space to more people.

Mr. Sembroski has described himself as “that guy behind the scenes, who really helps other people achieve their goals and take center stage,” and he’s now struggling to be in the spotlight.

“Everyone’s doing it for me this time,” he said. “And it’s a completely different and unique experience.”

Days after hearing the news, Dr Proctor and Mr Sembroski accompanied Mr Isaacman to Los Angeles to visit SpaceX headquarters and undergo health assessments at the University of California, Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, following the official announcement at the Kennedy Space Center, the four crew members will travel to Philadelphia to be circled around a giant centrifuge, simulating the powerful forces they will experience during launch and re-entry into the atmosphere.

Their training at SpaceX in California will be similar to that of NASA astronauts piloting SpaceX rockets. At the end of April, Isaacman also plans to take them on a three-day camping trip to Mount Rainier in Washington.

“It’s a matter of mental toughness,” said Isaacman. “Being uncomfortable, staying uncomfortable – and your performance when you are uncomfortable.”

He said that in the future he hopes that space flights will become more mainstream and turn “into planning a trip to Europe or something like that”.

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