On Sept.15, four people will become astronauts when they strap into a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule and blast off of planet Earth. The crew, led by Jared Isaacman, a billionaire entrepreneur from New Jersey (who bankrolled the flight), will make history on their Inspiration4 flight, which will be the first crewed spaceflight to travel around Earth without professional astronauts on board. And, since the crew was selected earlier this year, they have been hard at work training for this moment that is just weeks away.
"I could not be more excited," crewmember Hayley Arcenaux told Space.com in a recent interview.
The new crew prepares to launch
Inspiration4 will fly with Isaacman in command of a crew that includes Arcenaux, a 29-year-old, St. Jude physician's assistant and childhood bone cancer survivor from Louisiana; data engineer Chris Sembroski, from North Carolina; and geoscientist, science communicator and artist Sian Proctor, who has also been a professor at South Mountain Community College in Arizona.
Isaacman is using the trip to space and back to raise awareness and funding for the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. And these future astronauts cannot wait.
"I've been very lucky in life," Isaacman previously told Space.com. "You really don't get to a position that I'm fortunate enough to be in without the ball bouncing your way a couple times," he said.
"These families [at St. Jude] were dealt horrible hands. They're going through what no one should ever have to go through. It's immense heartache, and the sad part is many of those kids will not grow up to [have] any of the experiences that I've been lucky enough to have in life. We've just got to do something about that."
During their flight, the future astronauts will launch into orbit atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, orbit the Earth for three days and then splash down back on our home planet. To do that, they've been training for months, including a trip early on when they worked on crew cohesion with a group hike up Mount Rainier in Washington and have since continued to push forward.
"A lot of it has been academics and studying on our own," Arcenaux, the medical officer for the mission, added, "really learning the nominal overview of the mission and the ins and outs of our spacecraft. And, on top of that, we've done the typical astronaut training with centrifuge training, we're going to do some water survival training, and the hyperbaric chamber."
Most recently, the crew got the opportunity to train with a fighter jet as part of their ongoing training, which will continue up until they lift off next month.
"By far one of the best parts of @inspiration4x #AstronautTraining is flying and even though our rocket will be going way faster - this gives us an opportunity to gain situational awareness in a complex, fast moving fighter jet," Proctor, who will be the mission's pilot, said on Twitter.
By far one of the best parts of @inspiration4x #AstronautTraining is flying and even though our rocket will be going way faster - this gives us an opportunity to gain situational awareness in a complex, fast moving fighter jet. https://t.co/JBWXZXxTG9August 10, 2021
As part of this fighter jet training, the crew also solidified their "callsigns," which are nicknames that pilots and astronauts use when communicating in flight. Sembroski is "Hanks," Proctor is "Leo," Issaacman is "Rook" and Arcenaux is "Nova."
The excitement is building
But, while the crew has been hard at work learning and training, they are still sharing their excitement about their upcoming space journey.
"There's so much that I'm excited about," Arcenaux said. "Of course, experiencing the zero-g environment and floating and in that moment where I see Earth from space for the first time. But what I'm truly looking forward to the most is we're going to call the St. Jude patients from space."
While Arcenaux now works as a physician's assistant at St. Jude, she was a patient there as a child. Now, having survived bone cancer, she will not only be calling the kids at St. Jude from space, she will also make history as the first person with a prosthetic body part to reach space.
"It's gonna be so fun for our kids to see somebody who is in their same shoes, getting to grow up and accomplish their dreams and then knowing that they can do the same," she said.
"All I've ever wanted to do since I was 10 is work at St. Jude. And so I never thought I'd be an astronaut," she added. "Until now, astronauts have really had to be physically perfect. And I don't fall into that category. I have a metal rod in my leg from when they saved my leg … I just feel so honored to be paving the way."
"You've got a great humanitarian representing our mission and spirit of hope," Isaacman previously said to Space.com about Arcenaux, and her work as a frontline healthcare worker.
In fact, as part of the crew's recent fighter jet training, Arcenaux put her prosthetic to the test. "Texted my ortho surgeon that my internal prosthesis can officially handle 8 G’s! #cancersurvivorscan," Arcenaux tweeted after their flight training.
An inspiring crew
The rest of the crew, all from different backgrounds, are equally excited and eager to experience space for the first time, then share their stories and journeys with the planet once they return.
"It's something you dream of your entire life," Proctor has told Space.com in an interview.
For Sembroski, the experience has been a bit hard to believe.Largely because he wasn't originally supposed to fly on Inspiration4. Sembroski joined the crew as part of the mission's St. Jude's non-profit fundraising campaign, which offered a seat on the flight to a lucky contest winner. The person whose donation originally won the seat passed it on to Sembroski, who is a friend.
"It feels just so, so overwhelmingly satisfying and amazing. I feel so blessed that there was so much generosity afforded to me to make this all happen," Sembroski told Space.com in a separate interview.
With just a month to go until launch, the crew has said it's finally sinking in. They are going to space.
"That realization really hit me when I opened up the [mission gift] bag and pulled out the mission patch and just kind of held it in my hands for a few minutes," Sembroski said. "And having that in your hand, and just feeling that and seeing that you make that physical connection to the story that you just saw play out on the computer screen."
He added that the reality of this mission and what it stands for actually started to sink in when he got to know Proctor and saw her passion for space come through during the lead up to the mission.
"She won," he said "based off of her heart and her space art, not just from what her experience and her resume. You know, she's done all these amazing things, but … to win her seat wasn't about anything or her resume, it was just, she let her true passion come out … her love of space and art."
"I think it really goes to the heart of the mission," he added. "Being inspiring to others to pursue those dreams."
The crew will take off aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket from launch complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch, currently being documented for a series on Netflix, is scheduled to take off no earlier than Sept15.
Email Chelsea Gohd at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.