This initiative was created by Jared Isaacman, the founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments (NYSE: FOUR), an integrated payment processing solution. As his bio shows, Jared is quite the adventurer (and, as far as we know, has not taken an arrow in the knee). He has wanted to go to space since he was a kid. His entrepreneurship and the recent commercial space launch operators coming online presented him the opportunity to fulfill his childhood dream.
In fulfilling a personal and lifelong dream, I recognize the tremendous responsibility that comes with commanding this mission.
While a historic journey awaits us in space, I hope this mission reinforces how far inspiration can take us and the extraordinary achievements it leads to here on Earth.— Jared Isaacman
Commander & Benefactor
The mission will consist of a multi-day (likely two or three) Low Earth Orbit flight (LEO) with an all commercial crew. Jared will lead the mission. Additionally, he will be donating the remainder of tree seats. The second seat is already attributed to a yet-to-be-named “St. Jude [Children Hospital] ambassador”. The 3rd seat is named “Generosity”. One person will be selected among the people who will donate to St. Jude. The fourth and last future astronaut will be selected amongst the entrepreneurs that create a business account on Jared’s payment platform.
Overall, this seems to be a great opportunity to boost his business while giving a little back to those who need the help.
Anyway, we will know who the lucky ones are at the end of this month.
SpaceX beyond NASA
This is not the first time that SpaceX announces an all-commercial initiative. In fact, Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa was the first to partner with SpaceX for a space ride. This time, the Moon is the objective. The Dear Moon project created back in September 2018, is aimed at taking a group of artists that can undergo an amazing experience around the Moon and bring it back to Earth in some meaningful creative way in order to capture everyone’s imagination.
Initially, this mission was designed to use the Crew Dragon. It has since been shifted to the upcoming, and very much prototype, Starship. The reason for this is that Yusaku wants to bring along a whole bunch of people. Like a party of eight or more. The Crew Dragon was designed to carry up to seven people and only to LEO to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS). As Dragon is not actually deep space rated, SpaceX would really have to beef up the capsule’s life support, navigation system, and who knows what else. Even then, it would feel really cramped inside for such a crowded week-long trip around the Moon. Can you imagine going to the space toilet with six other people listening and bumping into you from the other side of the curtain?
Instead, SpaceX’s upcoming Starship is being designed to transport dozens of people at a time to Mars. A Moon flyby should be fine. Also, that front window seems to be way better for some panoramas.
However, that decision bumped up the launch date quite a bit. In fact, we don’t have one yet. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that Starship will have to launch many many times before actually taking people on board. The development has been picking up some steam but, as prototypes SN8 and SN9 have shown us, there are still a few kinks to iron out.
The question now is, how does Yusaku feel about not being on SpaceX’s first commercial crew to launch after all?
How NASA enables Private Space Exploration
Since 2011, with the last flight of the Space Shuttle, the United States effectively lost their ability to launch humans to LEO. Or anywhere outside Earth, really. NASA’s capability seemed to be declining since the end of the Apollo era.
After some iterations, NASA was allowed to follow up with the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion capsule, aiming beyond LEO. The now consolidated plan is to go “sustainably” to the Moon with the Artemis program.
Meanwhile, NASA was depending on the Russian Soyuz to take their own astronauts up to the ISS. Besides becoming a matter of national pride, Russia’s space agency – Roscosmos – seemed to be taking advantage of the monopoly by increasing the price per seat over the years.
Already burdened by the ramping costs and constant delays of the SLS program, NASA couldn’t develop a Shuttle replacement with the typical cost-plus contracts typically awarded to the big aerospace. So, the Commercial Crew Program (CCP) was created. Unlike the cost-plus model, NASA doesn’t pay to get a vehicle. Only kinda subsidizes the development stage and, then, pays for the service. In fact, the vehicle can later be used for whatever the developer wants. Like sending tourists to space.
Despite some initial criticism by the legacy space industry, politicians and even some real life space heroes, this model proved itself to be a good thing for everyone. NASA gets multiple providers for a cheaper service, the development tends to be quicker, and the contractors can explore other business opportunities.
In SpaceX’s case, the price per launch/seat takes into consideration the number of contracts it gets awarded by all customers, the relatively low cost of production of its vehicles, and the innovative reutilization they managed to develop (without being paid or told to do so). In fact, SpaceX is its own customer, leveraging all of this to further vertically integrate the deployment of its Starlink cluster of internet satellites.
Space tourism is becoming a thing. As people with deep pockets get more interested and become more confident in the commercial side of the aerospace industry, it’s likely that we’ll see more stories like this.
I hope that, soon, there will be a market for the shallower pocket type of adventurer.
Until then, keep in touch for more updates on this story.