SpaceX‘s Falcon 9 rocket will launch Polaris Dawn on the Dragon capsule by the fourth quarter of 2022. The Polaris Dawn mission is the first of three under the Polaris Program. Named after the constellation of three stars more commonly known as the North Star, its goal is to continue to make space exploration more accessible while simultaneously using its name and influence to raise funds and awareness for St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital.
Elon Musk’s mantra of space exploration is cheaper, safer, and more accessible. The decades when NASA called the shots on what programs to develop with outrageously inflated budgets, and how much money they’d pour into select congressional districts are dwindling away. The nostalgic past of Apollo heroes is becoming a future of riskier new ideas that were once frowned upon. Now there is not only competition but also collaboration, and both are key elements for innovation and sustainability in any industry. After many years, human spaceflight will break again the glass ceiling of lower Earth’s orbit, which is only a few kilometers away. The next era of space exploration is right around the corner and SpaceX, against all odds, has changed the game.
Last year, SpaceX launched Inspiration 4, the first civilian mission of its kind where four crew members flew aboard Dragon and orbited Earth for three days. Jared Isaacman, a self-made billionaire, owner of Shift4Payments and accomplished jet pilot, was Mission Commander. Isaacman and Musk had begun talks a few years earlier to fund a private mission to space. The project eventually took off and Isaacman’s Inspiration4 flight mates were selected based on four “pillars” of humanity: Leadership, Hope, Prosperity and Generosity. In conjunction with the humanitarian angle of the mission, fundraising for St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital became one of its core efforts. One of the crewmembers had special ties to the non-profit. Hayley Arcenaux who served as the mission’s Medical Officer is a cancer survivor who received treatment at St. Jude’s.
Polaris Dawn will continue the tradition of raising funds for childhood cancer. Jared Isaacman will also fund the three Polaris Program missions, and act as commander. Nonetheless, Polaris Dawn has lofty scientific goals such as testing Starlink for the first time in space, attempting the first-ever commercial spacewalk with new Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) suits designed by SpaceX, studying the effects of space radiation on human health, contributing to studies on decompression sickness by measuring venous gas emboli (VGE), and conducting research on Spaceflight Associated Neuro-Ocular Syndrome (SANS). Scott “Kidd” Poteet, who will act as Mission Pilot, brought up a comparison between the Gemini program and Polaris Dawn during a live conference with NASASpaceflight. Both are precursors to the breaking of space frontiers. Polaris III is expected to be the first human spaceflight on Starship. The gargantuan rocket is currently under testing and will also bring NASA astronauts to the moon.
The other two crew members and Mission Specialists are SpaceX employees. Sarah Gillis and Anna Menon are both Lead Space Operations Engineers. Gillis is responsible for overseeing the company’s astronaut training program and developing mission-specific curricula for astronauts who fly aboard the Dragon spacecraft. Menon has a biomedical background and also manages the development of crew operations. Some critics call the program a billionaire “joyride” because of the civilian nature of its crew. However, the fruition of these missions has a very specific objective, which is achieving Elon Musk’s goal of getting to Mars. Later in the live with NASASpaceflight, Poteet mentioned all of the ideas for the mission derived from conversations between Isaacman and Musk. “When Elon speaks, people respond” he chuckled, emphasizing the transformative role the billionaire and SpaceX have had in reshaping the space industry.
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Source: SpaceX, Polaris, NASASpaceflight/YouTube