I’m a supporter of space exploration. In fact, I believe that space exploration is the stimulus we need to advance our economy, our technology, and our educational systems. It’s an understatement to say I’m a fan of space exploration, but SpaceX’s latest public relations stunt, Inspiration4, is not space exploration. It’s a waste of space exploration.
Glorifying Them to Glorify SpaceX
One might have sympathy for the three passengers of the Inspiration4 crew that have been gifted the ride. They have had to endure countless posed photo sessions for SpaceX. They also have probably signed a confidentiality waiver that restricts them from making any statements without SpaceX’s approval.
However, they are getting a three-day joy ride in space. That is probably worth selling their souls for as a trade, but the winner in this bargain is SpaceX.
Desperate For Attention
SpaceX has a major problem and it started in 2019. From 2012 to 2018, SpaceX was growing its customer payload business. In 2018, they had 21 launches for commercial or government customers. They also hadn’t had a failure in over two years. That changed in 2019 when they dropped to eleven customer payload launches.
SpaceX ramped up its Starlink program as customer contracts collapsed. Those launches were paid for by SpaceX but every booster landing kept them in the news. The next year they only had twelve customer-paid launches but SpaceX launched 14 Starlink missions. That gave them the appearance of being a successful for-profit company even though less than half of their launches were actually revenue-producing.
The Inspiration4 mission gives them three things they desperately need: 1) public attention, 2) another rocket launch to add to their tally and, 3) revenue. SpaceX is playing out its role in a 70s-style movie as the dystopian corporation. It will do anything to look successful.
Ah, Uhm,…Inspiration4 is…Ah, Important Because…
What the mission lacks is a reason to do it. Space.com writer Mike Wall wrote an article (Why SpaceX’s Inspiration4 Private Mission to Earth Orbit is so Important) this week attempting to explain the importance of the Inspiration4 mission. It was a hard sell.
Wall said that the mission hoped to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The billionaire Inspiration4 crew member Jared Isaacman has promised to put up $100 million to the charity. The rest of the money was to be raised through the raffle of two of the seats on Inspiration4 and donations. The seat raffle fell well short of its goal.
The article points out that this will be the first mission without a professional astronaut chaperoning the crew. From launch to splashdown, SpaceX will control the flight. Wall suggests that this will open the door for space tourism and then later admits:
Orbital space tourism will almost certainly be the exclusive province of the extremely wealthy for a long time to come…
He also notes that SpaceX will gain new clout as a space tourism company but in 16 paragraphs, Wall fails to make a convincing argument for the need of the mission. He suggests that we should all have a feel-good moment because of Inspiration4 and then begins his closing with a shrug:
We don’t know what our current moment will lead to.
Wall was attempting to be positive about the mission but the reality is that this mission is all about what is going on behind the curtain at SpaceX. It is a waste of space exploration.