The citizens on board, a billionaire, a nurse, a teacher and a hospital donor, have had only a short training course. That while professional astronauts have to undergo years of training.
“It concerns a flight of three days. The launch of the Dragon 2 from Earth and the landing is completely pre-programmed in the computer,” explains space consultant Erik Laan. “The entire flight is guided from the ground. There are a few moments when no communication is possible with the missile, for example five minutes during the re-entry.”
That’s when the capsule containing the civilians comes back through the atmosphere. There is then too much interference to be able to communicate.
“The computer on board continues to work and there are often two backups. Only in emergencies do the occupants have to press a few buttons during the journey, but that is not very difficult,” says Laan, who is also a lecturer in the Aerospace Technology course at Inholland University of Applied Sciences. works in Delft. “There are also unmanned cargo flights to ISS.”
The computers are reliable, Laan knows. “They use old computers. With new computers, the microprocessors are too small and too sensitive to radiation from the sun. The flight software itself is also reliable. They do not use Windows 10. They are all kinds of Linux programs that have been extensively tested and extremely simple to be.”
The various procedures were discussed in detail with the citizens. It’s all however, pun intended, no rocket science.
“Once they are in orbit, and a meteorite hits the rocket causing the air pressure to drop, they have to put on their spacesuits very quickly. And if something happens at launch and they have to be disconnected from the rescue rocket, then they have to move their seats in a different position by operating a lever. But steering the ship is never necessary. They especially have to stay away from the buttons.”
This also applies to professional astronauts such as André Kuipers, who flew to space in 2011 with the Soyuz TMA-03M spaceship.
“During these years of training, astronauts mainly learn things for emergencies that they should not use. Kuipers has not applied 95 percent of what has been learned. A lot of attention is paid during training to docking at the ISS. Then the astronauts have to intervene if it doesn’t work fully automatically. But the citizens don’t go to the ISS.”
The launch of the ship from Cape Canaveral space base in Florida was broadcast live on Netflix’s YouTube channel. There is also a documentary series (Countdown) on Netflix about preparing citizens for their space journey. According to Laan, who follows the series, the preparation was thorough.
“Half a year is enough, especially for the Dragon. You mainly have to sit or float and hope that everything goes well. And they may have to adjust the air conditioning and humidity. So it is mainly about the condition on board, but not about mission-threatening stuff.”
Laan compares it to a flight with an airplane, in which the pilots also do little. “Take off and landing is automated. Even then, the pilot only intervenes in emergencies. You could fly without a pilot, but most people don’t want that. Personally, I’d rather be in a computer-controlled aircraft than in an aircraft controlled by a physical person is being controlled. Maybe the pilot is distracted for a while.”
The flight is paid for by 38-year-old billionaire Jared Isaacman. He chose three civilians to go with him. But will space travel ever become affordable for Jan Modaal?
That was the case with aviation. The tickets for the first flights were very expensive. We can now accommodate hundreds of people and we fly for a few tens.
“The arrival of turbine engines allowed us to make planes bigger and so flying became cheaper. Space travel cannot be scaled up to take hundreds of people because of the propulsion method. It will be cheaper, but never cheap.”
Space is not only for professional astronauts, but also for ordinary citizens. That is the message that space tourism sellers like to convey. That’s why one of those companies, SpaceX owned by billionaire Elon Musk, sent a special flight to space last night. The crew consists of ordinary citizens.
The captain is 38-year-old billionaire Jared Isaacman, who pays for the flight. He is the founder of payment service Shift4. In his spare time, he is a fighter jet pilot and mountaineer. In 2009, when he was 26, Isaacman flew an airplane around the world in record time. He only needed 62 hours for the journey.
Isaacman chose three citizens to go with him. He also chose a good cause. SpaceX hopes that the flight will raise about 200 million dollars (almost 170 million euros) for a children’s hospital in the city of Memphis, including by auctioning items that can be taken on board.
One of the crew members is Hayley Arceneaux (29), who works as a medical assistant at the hospital. As a child she had cancer. Her knee was replaced and she got a titanium rod in her thigh. She becomes the first person with a prosthesis to go to space.
Christopher Sembroski (42) is allowed to join because he donates money to the children’s hospital.
The fourth and final crew member is Sian Proctor (51), a geology teacher. She tried to become an astronaut for the American space agency NASA in 2009, but failed the final selection round.