Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson undoubtedly appreciated the performance: Inspiration4 reduced their respective space initiatives to the rank of high-profile hype. Conceived by billionaire Jared Isaacman following a visit to Baikonur in 2008 and provided by SpaceX, this flight is likely to mark exploration history in more ways than one.
The act of faith
What would you do if you were invited to board an orbital space flight for free? Would you agree to sit on top of a rocket filled with explosive substances and hope that all goes well until the landing three days later? For the moment, even Elon Musk has not dared, and it is Jared Isaacman, another billionaire – creator of the Shift4 companies and of Draken International – who chartered a special flight and invited three people to sit by his side in the Crew Dragon capsule. The details had been taken care of, including the use of the legendary PAD39, a launchpad from which Saturn V sent the astronauts to the Moon. The casting started with an advertisement broadcast during the Superbowl and brought together a team worthy of a boy band, with four very different people allowing the general public to easily identify with at least one of them: the extremely wealthy commander, the brilliant pilot, the super nice medical officer and the specialist who looks like my neighbor. Beyond the media performance, this quartet made history by inspiring enormous confidence in spaceflight: on the one hand, the flight was fully automated, on the other hand, his passengers seem to have enjoyed every minute of the flight.
In a multi-day orbital mission, you have a lot of time for things to go wrong.
The business model of the future
For Elon Musk, this flight constitutes a huge publicity campaign: it not only reinforces the reputation of SpaceX, a company “capable of failing quickly” during the development phases of its projects and then showing unprecedented performance in commercial flights. But, in addition, Jared provides him with the archetype of the partner of the future. As Musk stated in an interview after returning from the “Inspiration4” mission, his company is looking for people who want to go on flights to the Moon or Mars. However, these candidates must accumulate “the will and the means” necessary. The public-private model already in place between SpaceX and NASA is therefore likely to develop further, with adventurous patrons chartering missions in the future. As surprising as it may seem, it is also likely that Jared Isaacman can measure a return on investment that goes well beyond the initial philanthropic framework: his name and those of his companies have already added enormous value, thanks to the quality of the branding, storytelling and communications about Inspiration4.
We are witnessing a new golden age of space travel. Elon Musk will continue to pick up the deadlines with Falcon 9 and Starship. You can catch the news or visit SpaceX’s Starbase on YouTube or by following great channels like “Everyday Astronaut”. Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin will continue their efforts to reduce their delays, no doubt taking advantage of the strong interest shown by investors. And in the field of launching satellites into orbit – including very small ones – start-ups like Firefly, Rocket Lab or Blue Canyon keep appearing. The whole problem in a society like ours, fiercely opposed to risk-taking, lies in the reaction of public opinion and regulators in the event of an accident. The previous generation remembers the impact of the Challenger and Columbia accidents in 1986 and 2003. Despite SpaceX’s spectacular reliability in the space conquest the question is not “What if, but when?”