By LEE ROOP
AL.com via Associated Press
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — American space travel’s past, present and likely future met in Alabama on Thursday when the first private-citizen astronauts talked about their privately funded mission with students at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville.
“It’s really the first time any astronauts have gone into space flight that weren’t sent there by a superpower,” Jared Issacman said of his crew’s upcoming mission during a visit with students at the space center’s Aviation Challenge program. The reference was to America, Soviet Union/Russia and China.
Issacman is a billionaire businessman, jet pilot and Aviation Challenge alumnus. He’s also the man who will pilot the upcoming mission dubbed Inspiration4. His all-private crew launches aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in September for a three-day flight in a SpaceX Dragon capsule.
Issacman’s crew includes Chris Sembroski, a Lockheed Martin engineer, amateur astronomer and former Space Camp counselor; Hayley Arseneaux, a cancer survivor and physician’s assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; and geoscientist Dr. Sian Proctor. The launch is also a fundraising benefit for St. Jude that is seeking to raise $200 million for the Memphis child cancer research hospital.
“I’m really excited for all of you,” Sembroski told the Aviation Challenge students, “because we are going into the most exciting time for space exploration in decades with all the missions that are being announced.”
“We’ve got to get it right,” Issacman agreed of his crew’s mission, “because if we do that it insures that the timeline for all the interesting missions to follow can maintain its track and succeed.”
“The name of this flight is the reason this place exists and is the mission we both share,” U.S. Space & Rocket Center Executive Director and CEO Dr. Kimberly Robinson said introducing the crew. “To inspire the spirit of discovery and change the world through the power and passion of space exploration.”
The crew fielded questions including one from a 17-year-old who just received her associate’s degree from a community college. “I originally wanted to be a pilot,” she said, “so what would be some inspirational thoughts you might pass on to us for the future.”
“Congratulations on graduating with your associate’s degree,” Proctor said. “I’m a community college professor, so that’s fantastic. It was my dream to get my pilot’s license when I was a kid, but it was a dream that I didn’t achieve until I was 35 years old.”
Proctor said she dreamed of being a military aviator, space shuttle commander “or something like that. Those dreams kind of slipped away but then came back into my life. And now I’m in my 50’s and I’m going into space.
“What I like to say is don’t give up on your dreams,” Proctor said. “Keep pursuing them and keep being passionate. Life’s gonna take you in different directions. But if you just keep moving forward, amazing things are going to open up. Our world is changing fast and we need you to be a part of it.”
After their remarks and Q&A with the students, the Inspiration4 crew toured the U.S. Space & Rocket Center that is returning to full operations after a pandemic year that temporarily closed its world-famous Space Camp and rocketry museum. The center is also the official welcome center of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.