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On Wednesday, four American civilians -- founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments Jared Isaacman, bone cancer survivor and physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux, geology professor Dr. Sian Proctor, and data engineer and Air Force veteran Chris Sembroski -- will make history as they go on a multi-day trip orbiting Earth. Their mission operated by SpaceX, known as Inspiration4, has been documented in real time in the Netflix series Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space, which will broadcast their launch live beginning at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT.
Ahead of their journey into space, as they went into soft quarantine, ET spoke with Isaacman, who is the spacecraft commander, and Dr. Proctor, who will serve as the pilot, about how they were feeling as they got closer to launch and what they hope to personally get out of the experience.
ET: First off, congrats on the upcoming mission. How are you guys feeling today, especially as we get closer to the launch?
Sian Proctor: Every day, I get a little more excited. And I’m feeling really good. I’m feeling well-prepared and just excited for me and my crew to be able to go on this historic journey.
Jared Isaacman: After five months of just super-intense training, where we really haven't even had a chance to stop and catch our breath and reflect on everything, the big day is arriving. So I think we’re feeling pretty charged up.
I have to imagine now, even in soft quarantine, while there’s probably a lot to do, this is probably the first real time you all have had for intimate reflection on the process.
JI: Yeah, we sure hope so. We’ve been telling ourselves this for a couple of weeks that once we get to quarantine, we’ll finally be able to catch our breath and take care of a lot of things we’ve been just unable to do throughout training. It’s been pretty intense. So I hope this holds because we’re really counting on it.
SP: I have to agree with that. It’s been nonstop since the announcement, in a good way. But this is that moment, you know, to be able to take that breath and reflect on the journey that got us to this moment of actual liftoff and just enjoy it.
In addition to going through this process, it’s all been documented the entire time. What’s it like to not only go through this journey, which has to be one of a kind, but then to put it all on camera and to know that other people are going to be able to share in this experience?
JI: Well, for me, you just get used to having some buddies around and they’re just doing their job, which is carrying cameras or holding a microphone. But it wasn’t until the Netflix trailer came out -- I just didn’t even think anything would come of it, you know? 'Cause you just don’t think about it every day -- and then it’s like, “Oh wow. There’s going to be something that comes out of it.” And then you’re really happy about it because, as we mentioned before, training has been so intense and we haven’t had a chance to really reflect on everything and think back to all those important milestones on our journey and just appreciate what we’ve been fortunate enough to go through. So we’re just thankful to have somebody there to document it.
SP: Yeah, I feel the same way. And I’m really thankful and honored that the world gets to go on this journey with us through this Netflix documentary and get that kind of inside look into how we have come from the beginning all the way through liftoff and splashdown. Because it’s the first time you really get that sense of the journey in almost real time as it's happening. Everybody gets to experience that with us. And that will lead to hopefully the world being inspired by what we’re doing here.
Watching the documentary, or even the trailer, you get this sense that space travel, at least for civilians, is no longer science fiction. We’re not reaching a new territory that is no longer just some fantasy that we’ve had for half a century.
JI: When you think about all that, like speaking about science fiction, you look at all those videos that SpaceX has been putting out with these rockets landing on ships or the simultaneous Falcon Heavy rockets, they didn’t do all that just to continue to send the lucky few astronauts from the United States or the European Space Agency or Russia up into orbit. They did it for everybody. The founding mission of the company EnVision is to make space affordable and accessible for everyone because the world is just a more interesting place… And we’re just a small step in that journey.
SP: We got to go and watch the SpaceX Crew-2 launch. And I just remember this feeling of like, “I’m next. Me and my crew are the next ones to go up and I’m just a regular person.” So having this experience hopefully opens that door for others to follow. And eventually it will be just a floodgate where the doors are kicked down and everybody from around the world can have this experience.
I was reading about the call signs each crew member has. And I was just curious if there’s any insight to the names of Rook, Leo, Nova and Hanks.
JI: We don’t usually talk about how we got our call signs. I’ve had mine for some time. I’ve been flying these types of aircrafts for a while. So don’t assume that Rook has much to do with space exploration. But yeah, I think these are important moments for us individually. We knew that as we progressed through training there would be a fighter jet training opportunity to expose everyone to some high Gs and dynamic environment they gotta be able to cope and work in because you don't get to turn Dragon off on the uphill ride. So when you got through it all, there would be a naming ceremony and crew members would receive their call signs.
SP: It was definitely a special moment for me. And I got to fly with my Commander Rook in the MIG-29 and I remember a moment where he just turned it on and we went into this high G turn where we were pulling six plus. And I was like, “Oh yeah. OK.” And I was like, “OK, this is going to end.” And it just kept going. And I was like, “Oh yeah. All right, we got this.” So that was a very special moment for me. And then to also get my call sign, Leo, I’m very proud of it. I think it really represents me.
When it comes to launch day, can you anticipate or tell us what will be going through your mind?
SP: For me, it’s all about just relying on my training and executing and being able to perform my role as the mission pilot and be there for my crew and to back up my commander.
JI: People ask us all the time, “Are there any particular moments you’re most excited about? Is it launch? Is it looking out the cupola in orbit? Is it the excitement of re-entry and the big fireball that you’re going to be riding back to Earth as the parachutes splashdown?” It’s everything, right? Like, we’ve been spending five months to be really disciplined in our training, looking at procedures and focusing on the big picture, which is just good mission execution. It is a lot of responsibility being the first civilian mission to go into orbital space flight. If we get this right, think about all the exciting missions to come. This is going to lead to families living on Lunar or Martian colonies, bouncing up and down on the Moon with their kids in a spacesuit. I mean, that’s a pretty cool, exciting world we might eventually live in. But we got to get the first one right.
Personally, what do you hope to get out of this experience?
JI: This is the greatest mission I could ever imagine going on right now. And I’m just very focused on my responsibilities towards that mission and executing it really well.
SP: And for me personally, I think, it’s that idea of finally making it, getting selected and being able to share that message with others and hopefully inspire them through that. You know, you have these childhood dreams and it’s easy to give up on stuff, but perseverance and determination and hard work and sharing your passions with others can lead to amazing opportunities like this. People who are older, a lot of times they think as you get older there’s nothing new on the horizon. But that’s not the case anymore. And so people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, there’s a lot of opportunities still out there for you to be able to take advantage of. And I hope to inspire us seasoned individuals to go out and continue to pursue our dreams.
And then in terms of the actual mission and while you’re in orbit, how do you hope to engage people on the ground?
JI: Well, we are going to be busy on orbit. We know how lucky that we are four of 600 people that have ever been fortunate enough to go into orbital space flight. And we have to use every bit of that time to make a difference. So there’s a lot of on-orbit experiments that we’ll be conducting… But, of course, we’ll be interacting with people on the ground as well. We do have a video downlink capability and we do have two-way radio comms, so we’re planning to speak to the children at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. That’s very important to our medical officer crew member, who is Hayley Arceneaux, who was treated at St. Jude and actually is a physician assistant there now. There’ll be other media and video engagement opportunities we’ll be able to do on orbit.
SP: The message that we bring back when we come back is so important because we become, to some extent, ambassadors of this idea of hope for the future and inspiration and what it means for the advancement of human space flight. And so for me, some of the things that I’ll be doing on orbit are painting and poetry and bringing student art and poetry to space with me and being able to bring that back and to share that with others is really important.
What kind of impact do you hope this has on the people watching either the live launch or the docuseries?
JI: I think it comes back to the two biggest things we’re looking to accomplish on this mission. It’s always been about inspiring people certainly as to what can be accomplished in space, but also what we can achieve here on Earth. If we’re able to raise the funds and awareness to meet our objectives for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and in a couple of years from now the childhood cancer survival rate moves even a little bit, even one percent, because what we’re able to do for this mission, then that’s a mission well accomplished. And we also hope to inspire people as to what the future does look like in space and how it works. Just 600 people that have been fortunate enough to go to orbital space flight and in a couple of years maybe it’s 6,000 or maybe it’s 60,000. SpaceX has some pretty big ambitions and we’re really happy to support it.
SP: As an educator going to space, I hope to inspire that next generation that when they watch the Netflix series or watch the launch, that they become the next person to maybe work for SpaceX and create that one thing that enables us to be successful on the Moon or Mars or even beyond. And so when we’re talking about inspiring the next generation to dream big and to work hard and reach for the impossible, that’s what I hope that they take away from our series.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The first four episodes of Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space are now streaming on Netflix and will conclude with a feature-length finale premiering later in September. The mission will launch live on Netflix’s YouTube page and can be watched in the video below: