SpaceX aims to make progress in space and on Earth with its new venture, the Polaris Program. And the team behind it couldn't be more excited.
The Polaris Program is a joint effort involving SpaceX and Jared Isaacman, the tech entrepreneur and billionaire who funded and commanded the Inspiration4 orbital crewed mission to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in September 2021. Polaris aims to launch three crewed missions to space, ultimately culminating in the first crewed flight of SpaceX's Starship vehicle. The program will also see the first SpaceX astronauts take flight, debut new spacesuits and much more.
The first mission of the program, Polaris Dawn, has no set launch date, but commander Isaacman is ready to return to the final frontier.
"I'm incredibly passionate that we can make meaningful progress towards a world we all want to live in for tomorrow, while also working to address the challenges and hardships of today. It does not have to be one or the other, but in fact can be both," Isaacman said during a news conference today (Feb. 14).
Meet the crew: These are the 4 private astronauts of SpaceX's Polaris Dawn
The series of three missions is named after what humans have historically called the "North Star," which is actually a system of three different stars. The mission will see Isaacman fly alongside SpaceX employees Sarah Gillis and Anna Menon as well as pilot Scott Poteet.
"I can't tell you how honored I am to work with such an accomplished crew that I trust and respect deeply," Isaacman said today.
Isaacman previously funded Inspiration4, which raised over $240 million for the research hospital. He shared that he will be funding the Polaris missions as well.
These missions will also see the first spacewalk from a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft (before a crew is launched on Starship). This planned extravehicular activity (EVA) is part of the impetus for SpaceX to bring new spacesuits to the table. And, as Isaacman discussed today, SpaceX is developing and testing new spacesuits that will be used during Polaris.
"There's a fantastic team of brilliant engineers working on the spacesuit. And it'll be really exciting to work together as their design unfolds," said Menon, a lead space operations engineer at SpaceX and mission specialist for Polaris Dawn.
Excitement from the team
"Am I addicted to spaceflight?" Isaacman said when asked if it were true. "I've obviously loved aviation and aerospace my entire life, and I just feel incredibly fortunate to really be almost a fly on the wall with everything that SpaceX is accomplishing and what they hope to deliver."
And, as Isaacman shared his excitement, so did the rest of the crew.
"I served 20 years in the Air Force flying the F-16. Most recently, I was one of the directors for Inspiration4, and I'm proud to be here for the opportunity to serve as the mission pilot for Polaris Dawn," Poteet said.
"This mission is definitely going to be incredibly exciting for the new training that we do need to put together to support the mission. We'll be learning along the way when we are developing the suits, and it will help define what we'll do for EVA training," said Gillis, an engineer, SpaceX's lead astronaut trainer and a mission specialist on Polaris Dawn.
"I'm really thrilled and humbled to be a part of the Polaris Dawn crew and to represent our incredible team at SpaceX. I've worked for both NASA and SpaceX and in both places supported our astronauts in this mission. I'm excited to be on the other side," Menon said.
"We are just both really supportive of each other's aspirations and really excited to support each other as we both go through these individual endeavors as a family," added Menon, whose husband Anil Menon was recently announced as a NASA astronaut candidate.
Building a future
Isaacman noted that the Polaris missions will focus on research to benefit not just future exploration but life on Earth as well.
As Isaacman shared, all three Polaris missions "include an extensive list of scientific research and payloads with an aim to test next-generation technologies that will support future long-duration human spaceflight and inspire the world as to all the possibilities that exist in the last great frontier."
To reach these science goals, the program, which will raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital as Inspiration4 did, will also work with the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine, the Weill Cornell School of Medicine and other partners.
And both SpaceX and Isaacman believe in the future that such research holds.
"This program has been purposefully designed to advance long-duration spaceflight capabilities and guiding us towards the ultimate goal of facilitating Mars exploration," Isaacman said. "Perhaps one of the most important points to reinforce here is the overwhelming belief that we have that we can make progress in space for tomorrow."
Additionally, while this is a private collaboration between SpaceX and Isaacman, there is still emphasis placed on this work benefitting spaceflight and exploration as a whole.
"This isn't just about SpaceX," Gillis said today. "It really is, hopefully, opening access to space for everybody."