A charitable mission to space flew a year ago today, kickstarting a new era for the hospital it supported.
Inspiration4 used a SpaceX Dragon capsule to take four civilians into orbit, none of whom had direct spaceflight experience. The three-day mission attracted global attention because of its trailblazing nature — it was the first-ever all-private crewed mission to Earth orbit — as well as its diverse crew and the fact that it raised $250 million across six months for a children's hospital.
That liftoff on Sept. 15, 2021 was just the beginning, however, as billionaire commander Jared Isaacman is deep in training for a new set of missions to support the same institution: St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.
Polaris Dawn, the first of the trio of coming spaceflights under Isaacman's Polaris Program on SpaceX vehicles, is scheduled to lift off no earlier than December.
In pictures: Inspiration4: SpaceX's historic private spaceflight
Inspiration4 also launched a new journey for the other three astronauts on board: analog astronaut Sian Proctor (the first Black woman pilot in space), Hayley Arceneaux (a pediatric cancer patient who was the first astronaut with an artificial prosthesis) and U.S. Air Force veteran Christopher Sembroski.
Both Proctor and Arceneaux have released books about their experiences, while Sembroski made a space-focused career move by joining Jeff Bezos' aerospace company Blue Origin as an avionics engineer. (He was at Lockheed Martin when Inspiration4 flew.)
Isaacman, meanwhile, recently toured the newly named Inspiration4 Advanced Research Center at St. Jude's, which is studying the immune system and cell and molecular biology in an effort "to understand how tumors grow and behave while testing new treatments," the hospital wrote (opens in new tab) in a post to mark September's Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
The year after Inspiration4 has seen more private citizens fly into space, either via short-term suborbital missions on Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle or through the first all-commercial mission via Axiom Space, which made it to the International Space Station earlier this year. (Inspiration4 didn't meet up with the space station, instead flying solo around Earth for three days.)
While most private astronauts these days are well-heeled and self-funded, a small number of individuals (like three of the four astronauts on Inspiration4) have more diverse economic backgrounds. In the meantime, the space community has been asking about ways to open up spaceflight more so that lots of kinds of people can participate.