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SpaceX to launch four civilians to orbit in mission known as Inspiration4 ⁠— 9/15/21

CNBC Television · Youtube · 206 HN points · 0 HN comments
HN Theater has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention CNBC Television's video "SpaceX to launch four civilians to orbit in mission known as Inspiration4 ⁠— 9/15/21".
Youtube Summary
SpaceX is set to make history as Elon Musk’s space company prepares to launch four civilians to orbit. They will become the first full crew of non-professional astronauts to fly to space.

Known as Inspiration4, the mission is the creation of SpaceX and billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, the founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments. Isaacman purchased the multi-day flight from SpaceX for an undisclosed fee, with the goal of raising awareness and funding for St. Jude Children’s hospital. The mission is scheduled to liftoff Wednesday night, with a five-hour window that opens at 8:02 p.m. EDT.

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SpaceX to launch four civilians to orbit in mission known as Inspiration4 ⁠— 9/15/21
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All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this video.
Sep 16, 2021 · 206 points, 83 comments · submitted by kjhughes
They’re in orbit! Will be an exciting 3 days for them. For those wanting the back story, there’s an excellent Netflix series on this mission:

Also Scott Manley summarizes it well on YouTube

Thanks for linking that Netflix series, I was unaware of it. It's pretty decent.
Looks like they’ll be performing some health research while up there.

> Specifically, data will be collected on the crew members' ECG activity, movement, sleep, heart rate and rhythm, blood oxygen levels as well as the light and sound levels within the Crew Dragon cabin, according to the statement. The research will also monitor both behavioral and cognitive performance using an app called Cognition, organ systems using an artificial intelligence-powered ultrasound device designed for use by non-experts to assess the crew's balance and perception before and after the flight.

Doing some blood sampling too. Very few people have been to space, so glad to see they’re adding themselves to these studies.

It seems so ordinary yet surreal. So second nature. Seems as if humanity has access to another realm suddenly. It probably must have felt the same when the airplanes started carrying ordinary joe blows.
First successful powered heavier-than-air experiments happened in early 1900s, by the 1960s flying many common people inside a jet was affordable.

First human in space was in 1961. We are some decades behind this time.

>We are some decades behind this time.

Well, launching these 4 people does take over a ~~million gallons of kerosene~~ (edit: million lbs of CO2 emissions), so for the environment it is probably good that it isn't as common as jet travel yet. It will probably take fusion energy or mass solar, plus hydrogen rockets (emit only water).

There probably aren't going to be even 300 kerosene-burning Falcon 9 flights ever (this was number 127 or 128), because Starship is likely to start lifting commercial payloads by 2023 or 2024, and it burns methane, which could more easily than kerosene be part of a solar-power-to-rocket-fuel pipeline, recycling environmental CO2.

Yeah but will it be? As it stands no rocket fuel is made in a clean way. As someone who very much intends to stay on Earth for the rest of my life, I feel well within my rights to be concerned that unneeded space travel is making stuff worse for us down here. Going into orbit is environmentally expensive, and society should use this technology judiciously.

> Yeah but will it be

Per Elon, yes, eventually [1].

It makes sense for them to do this too. They need the technology to be ready for mars. Positive PR is worth a lot in an industry heavily constrained by government regulations. The cost isn't likely to be that high compared to the rest of the costs involved in launching a rocket. If they're really lucky it will even help with the environmental regulators.


Spacex has the creation of CH4 as a priority, partly due to climate change and also as a development path for the tech needed to create fuel on the surface of Mars. Two (or more) birds with one stone is part of Elon Musk's very successful approach to getting things done, normally I'd agree with you but I think they will get it done before a Mars mission.
This is a fairly short sighted take. If SpaceX is able to commercialize space we could shift a lot of things that are traditionally difficult to off Earth even if you intend to remain here. For example, space provides a good method to pull a vacuum, run higher efficiency energy collection (solar/photo synthesis), or release byproducts of toxic manufacturing. Possibilities are very expansive. If we think of it this way: We will release X amount of CO2 to get a permanent space base which will save us an ongoing Y amount of CO2 forever in the production of some goods.

This is also assuming that there's no value in small, safe, steps on a path to socially acceptable space travel. Right now there's a perception of a lot of risk in going to space which is valid. If technology becomes safer over night no one will know it is safer. These incremental "we can launch", "we can reuse", "we can send a person", "we can send 4 people", etc messages are broadcasting to people that we can do this and that we are doing it. It's no longer science fiction.

Water is a very potent greenhouse gas in the upper atmosphere.
It doesn't accumulate long term in the same way as CO2 though, and kerosene burning makes water too.
Where did you get the "over a million gallons of kerosene" figure? The figure I found [1] is 260,760 lbs in the first stage, which works out to almost exactly 25,000 US gallons in the first stage, which uses the large majority of the propellant.

The Wikipedia article [2] says 38,570 US gallons of RP-1 in the first stage and 4,500 US gallons in the second.



I thought I heard that in their stream. Must have been a million lbs of fuel+oxygen and not a million gallons of fuel. Sounds like close to ~125,000lbs of CO2 emissions per passenger then.

With Starship being methane based (higher H to C ratio) and at bigger scale hopefully it gets that number down a lot.

This lists it at 1.1 million lbs fuel+oxygen and shows it being used with Dragon (did they use this or similar?):

From the stream: "Prior to liftoff, the Falcon 9 first stage is loaded up with nearly one million pounds of fuel and liquid oxygen." -
To be fair it’s a lot harder!
There's a great Netflix [series]( that covers the story behind the mission and each of the crew members.
Can we update the link to the official SpaceX channel? [This one]( is actually in high resolution unlike the one on CNBC.
I'd like to take a moment to appreciate Chris Sembroski, the first data engineer in space.
My comment will be a bit meta, but when I watch these things I have to say I typically enjoy the SpaceX streams much more than the others launching rockets. The amount of stuff I'm interested in hearing... or just sounds from the launch pad and no talking... tends to be in significantly higher proportion on SpaceX streams than any of the others. They don't completely escape the PR blather, but it seems to be tolerably modest for SpaceX.

I find that NASA streams tend to be just far too loaded with spokesholes jabbering.... like a big infomercial.... and don't even get me started on Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic.

SpaceX is a rocket company run by one of the world's biggest nerds, and has a loving following of mega-nerds. Of course us HNers feel at home watching them work.
I posted this in a duplicate thread, but I don’t think this is the first “all civilian” space flight? E.g. Here is a space flight where no crew members were in the military:

I don't know if this is the first or not (under the traditional definition of civilian), but I don't think your link is not a counter example...

Sergei Propopyev apparently commanded that mission, and per NSF immediately before becoming a cosmonaut he was the commander of an aviation group of strategic bombers with the 121st Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment in the Saratov region.

Right, they're using the term informally to mean non-government with no professional astronauts. (They clarified this on the stream.)
It’s the first “I’d like to buy 3 days in orbit for 4” flight.
Civilian in this case is being used to denote that none of the crew is being sent as part of a governmental agency. In the the flight you are referencing all 3 crew were members of governmental space agencies.
Live tracker
Can't really see much of Earth at the same time with that altitude. Wouldn't have paid for that. Hope we soon have much higher missions (>GEO).
The altitude is really interesting, showing that Crew Dragon is higher than both the Hubble and the ISS. They really want to show that, yes, there is no doubt, these people are in space and not just high altitude.
It took everything the shuttle had to get to the Hubble, so it is an interesting choice for an orbit. I'm guessing it was a check box on some SpaceX "can we do this" type of list.
Shuttle went slightly higher than this mission. Apparently there are plans to send Crew Dragon as high as 1200 km.
They not only got above Hubble’s orbit, they even returned the first stage back to landing, which means they had the performance both to get to that orbit and to be reusable.
Glad to see SpaceX keep pushing the limits. This would have taken any of the old guard of space companies 10 years and a few billion dollars more to make happen.
Alternate stream list:

This one was a blast to watch from Melbourne (Florida), about 50 miles south from Kennedy Space Center. It lit up half of the evening sky, weather accommodating. Sorry for the shaky video.

Disappointing that they cut the stream so early. I like what they are doing, but I wouldn't say this is revolutionary for commercial space flight unless they said how much they paid.
Second engine cutoff, successful

They're in orbit now

Glad I wasn't awake to watch this, they barely showed anything. NASA missions had much more in-capsule footage.
At 4:25:22, an object passes the behind the rocket nozzle, anyone else notice it ?
Probably 1st stage debris.
Looks fairly unremarkable to me. It's passing between the camera and the engine nozzle, so it must be very small -- maybe a speck of dust or a fleck of paint.

Bear in mind that at this point in the video, the spacecraft is in direct sunlight and the background is pitch-black, so it doesn't take much to reflect enough light to be visible.

Gotta lay off them ufo vids.
this is cool and all, but the difference between the reaction to this one and the reaction to the bezos one is hilarious.
Can you elaborate?
How many decades until these launches are the way we go from LA to Hong Kong for the price of a plane ticket again?
Infinite decades, or a few years in Elon time. The cost will always be too large, the safety will never be there, and the total mission time including fueling, space suits, transportation to and from launch site, will dwarf airplane time.
Thanks for the input Nostradamus.
Are there any Shift4 users here? How does it hold up compared to the likes of Square pos?
Gotta say, "launching four civilians to orbit" definitely conjures up a certain mental image!
Maybe I'm jaded but I find no "inspiration" in one billionaire sending another one into space.

I know they took along "guests" but I can't imagine there's any significant science in this.

How very sad for you. You are jaded. Yes, there is some science, but this is about the very early stages of opening space to a much broader swath of people. The income levels of these first few people is irrelevant. Who do you think flew on the first trans-Atlantic flights? Was it worth it for those people to fly and help airlines sustain a precarious early business model? Yes, it was. Now, most people can fly overseas with some planning and/or saving. Use your imagination to consider the longer term possibilities. All new things have a starting point.
You are too jaded.

Isaacman could have taken 3 fishing buddies along and just made it a joyride. Instead he put all this work into promoting this mission as a fundraiser for St. Jude's.

Apparently isaacman also had cultured a habit of putting on airshows (and stunt flights) for charity since days when he was significantly less wealthy. I think that's a lesson a lot of aspirationally wealthy could learn.
Not much science, sure.

But I'm somewhat inspired by regular people going to orbit without any professional astronauts on board.

It feels more like the 1927 Charles Lindbergh flight than Apollo 11. A publicity stunt in one sense, but also the beginning of a new era of flight.

I don't know, the bravery and courage it took for the "guests" to join this ride inspired me to donate to St. Jude.

If it had just been billionaires (and a token scientist or aspirational astronaut), I may have agreed with your jaded opinion.

I don’t see why anyone involved in this being a billionaire is relevant at all. Billionaire is thrown about as an insult these days.

I don’t understand why being done by a very successful person detracts from the achievement. Isaacman has built a business that provides valuable services and employs a thousand people paying them a decent wage to do useful work. There’s nothing bad about that, but he’s talked about as if he was a criminal or had done something shameful.

> Billionaire is thrown about as an insult these days.

There are plenty that believe the very existence of billionaires suggests an obscene imbalance in our system of capital. (I happen to agree.)

Sure, it's a fairly commonly expressed sentiment. My question to that is, where are the big, successful, innovative products, services and companies going to come from? Who is going to create them, and who is going to own and control them?

Let's take Isaacman as a fairly randomly selected example. At age 16 he identified poor practices in the payments processing market and started a business. Instead of having to wait a month for card processing to be set up for a business, he would have them up and running in 1 day. How much money has that saved the US economy? Apart from the company itself, how many jobs at other companies has that cumulatively supported?

Aside from that, through his control of the company, Isaacman has steered it to greater and greater success, supporting every more jobs and customer businesses. Clearly he knows what he's doing and is the right person to run the company. So what's the sense in confiscating his share of the company? Who should it be given to, and therefore who instead of Isaacman should run it?

Marxism says Isaacman shouldn't have had the opportunity to start the company in the first place. All capital allocation should be controlled by the state, putting bureaucrats in charge of everything. Collectivists say the employees should own it, but employees don't want to assume the risks that owners and investors do. They generally don't want to have to assume the responsibilities either. There's nothing to stop employee owned companies thriving in most developed countries, that doesn't happen because the dynamics of such enterprises just don't work in practice. Yes of course there are exceptions, great, but why are they so desperately few?

I'm not against employees having a say in company affairs, they're legitimate stakeholders and should rightly have a voice, but control and ownership must be earned and it must come with responsibility and acceptance of risk.

I guess millionaires, not billionaires?
Some degree of concentration of capital is good. It helps fund long-term projects.
I don't disagree, would emphasize "some" degree.
It's somewhat remarkable how much we've lowered the health requirements for people going to space. That's cool.
Yeah, Hayley is the first person to go into space with a prosthesis. And it wasn’t special-designed for space of course.. she had her knee replaced as a kid while removing a bone cancer.
This is great news as a cancer survivor.
This is a part of a significant Science endeavor. It’s not the most or least important part, but it is a part.

Whether you find inspiration or not is more a reflection of your current internal state than anything :).

And the 100 million he donated to St Jude Childrens Hospital? Or the 220 million target for donations during the flight?

I do not understand how some people can be such a wet blanket. This is history. Civilians, further out from Earth than anyone has been in 20 years...and they were able to buy a ride. This is the beginning of commercial space flight.

It's the equivalent of driving a gold spike in the Transcontinental Railway across the USA when it was completed. Now it can be used.

Edit: Also, hello Hacker News. I have been a lurker for about 5 years and it was this comment that made me angry enough to make an account.

> this comment that made me angry enough to make an account.

Wow. Well, you're welcome? Or, sorry? Welcome to HN. :)

> This is the beginning of commercial space flight.

Space felt like a great reaching out of humanity, a huge vast problem all mankind was venturing towards. Even amid the colossal commercialization of satellite imagery & commsats, it still felt like humanity was expanding some kind of net overall potential.

This feels so lacking in the bonhomie. It further accenuates our class differences, rather than making me excited for humanity. And it feels frivolous, like we have touched greatness, begun a great journey, but have no idea what to do now, no vision remaining.

The end of the "one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" era.

The real question is what were you eating when you decided to make this account?
No, the GP is right.

> This is the beginning of commercial space flight.

No it's not - it's the beginning of vanity rides. Well, until one blows up, that is.

> this comment made me angry

Sure, you're a space fanboi, we get it. You want to be entertained for free with rockets. Now go back to arguing who the best Star Trek commander was.

Whoever said, "We should paint racing stripes on pairs of rockets and race them to orbit like NASCAR." had you in mind.

It also now means we have a record for number of humans in space.

slight nuance, but record number of people in orbit, not space. When virgin galactic was in space, the total number was higher (16).
Considering the Bezos/Branson debacle, I think it's easy for people to get lost in the "This is just another billionaire paying to go to space" thing... and it is, but that's a small part of it. The passengers themselves are basically unimportant compared to the bigger picture.

Who cares if the passengers are some random billionaire and a group of people carefully chosen purely as a publicity stunt, let him have his attention/marketing that he gets on the side of paying for this trip... the real story is the actual actions that happened:

This is the first time a group of civilians have gone into (proper orbital) space on a re-usable launch system as paying tourists.

This is a MASSIVE moment for space travel in general, and has absolutely proven that SpaceX is onto something really special here with their systems and people.

I think its meaningful that the first one of these wasn't "a billionaire and his three friends."

I also like the fundraising component, such as auctioning one of the seats via charitable lottery and deliberately choosing a peds cancer survivor.

What bezos and Branson have created so far are just expensive “space” suborbital rollercoasters for rich tourists.

Musk created multi-day orbital space journeys going further out than any human has gone in many decades.

We didn't have to wait a year to know that SpaceX is onto somethng really special. Comparing Crew Dragon with Soyuz, another vehicle used to give space tourists their ride, we can see that SpaceX is two or even three generations ahead. Selling tickets to Earth orbit with Dragon was just a matter of time.

What is really interesting is that if Dragon may fly beyond the Moon. That would be a completely outstandig feat for SpaceX.

Absolutely, very special. And the US's tried & tested (& one of its closest) mates, Australia, is becoming increasingly involved in the space of "space". :)

We've finally realized it's very important, & have setup systems similar to what exists in the US. Hopefully there'll be more & increasingly tighter collaboration, as the decades pass.

Honestly my eyes glaze over whenever someone compares spacex or it's founder to virgin galactic or blue origin or their founders. Spacex is currently working on their second generation reusable, autonomous space launch system and vehicle. Their first one is already in heavy use. The other two companies are just playgrounds for their founders to spend money on to pretend to be visionary. Elon Musk and Spacex are serious about space, the other two are not, comparing them is silly.
Agree. The challenges are still real in that with enough of these you'll lose people (just like you do in airplanes occasionally) but this is a pretty significant moment. I haven't seen any mention of any "science" they are going to do which was a late add to the qualification list for astronaut, and it was really apparent the difference between having access to the NASA deep space network vs not having that access. Once Starlink is a bit more populated the access to the NASA DSN should not be a problem.

The other interesting thing to note is that SpaceX needed to use pad 39A for this but they are actively building a launch facility in Boca Chica. So this will force the issue of launch air traffic control which appears fairly primitive given that the US only has 2 launch locations.

And finally there is the whole, 3 days in orbit vs the 3 minutes of free fall that Virgin and Blue Origin offer. Certainly there is an interesting value proposition there. I don't know if it covers the $62M which is the 'cost to LEO' that SpaceX nominally charges. Let's say it did, then a tourist flight with a ticket price of $20M[1] each would have a nominal gross margin of nearly 30% suggests a pretty viable business model.


> I haven't seen any mention of any "science" they are going to do

Apparently they will be researching human body fluid distribution in microgravity using ultrasound.

I learned this from the Livestream.

> So this will force the issue of launch air traffic control which appears fairly primitive given that the US only has 2 launch locations.

It's at least three, is it not? Vandenberg, Wallops, the Cape?

Edit: there's also Kodiak.

True, I always seem to ignore wallops. Adding a civilian run launch facility is new though.
We don't know the public price of Inspiration4, but the $62m list price of Falcon 9 does not include Crew Dragon, which is a substantially more expensive vehicle to operate.
Is this the right way to think about flight pricing given that the vehicles are not expendable?
SpaceX doesn't sell the vehicles, they sell the launch services. From an external perspective it's still a cost per launch. From an internal perspective they launch enough that it amortizes nicely as a cost per launch.
This doesn't seem a long-term take. Historically pricing was based on vehicle cost because the vehicles were expended. With reusable vehicles the companies can make a handsome margin well above launch cost (and covering the fixed up front research) that is much lower price than vehicle cost. In the same vein that an Uber ride costs a bit less than buying a car. This isn't idle speculation; SpaceX has already made clear target $/kg pricing for Mars delivery that incorporate vigorous reuse.
True, although NASA paid for Crew Dragon but not for the refurbishment to fly it again. The news channels were stating "$200M" for the whole thing and I don't find that particularly credible.

I reminded one of my adult children that when I was their age I paid nearly $5,000 for a computer that had specs that were not even close to one that you can buy for $35 today. Perhaps more comparable air travel became 10x cheaper over the first 40 years.

The thing that excites me most about this is that Congress isn't the one funding this work[1]. As a result SpaceX is motivated to make it more economical and more efficient. What I read about as a kid in the 70's about moon bases and orbital hotels, SpaceX is actually on a path to make real. I only hope that before I die I can ride into orbit.

[1] Yes they buy launch services from SpaceX, but they have been buying such services for decades, SpaceX was the first company that decided to be commercial rocket company from the start, AFAICT.

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