Five months after billionaire tech entrepreneur Jared Isaacman led a crew for a privately funded philanthropic space mission, he’s doing it again. And maybe again, and again.
The Shift4 CEO announced today that he’ll be working with SpaceX on a series of three Polaris Program missions — starting with a Crew Dragon flight that could launch as early as this year, and climaxing with the first crewed orbital flight of SpaceX’s Starship super-rocket.
During the first mission of the series, known as Polaris Dawn, Isaacman and his crew will aim to conduct the first spacewalk done from the Dragon’s hatch, test the laser communication system for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband telecom network, and potentially set an altitude record for orbital spaceflight.
The main goal for last September’s Inspiration4 flight, paid for by Isaacman, was to raise more than $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. — a goal that was achieved. St. Jude’s will also be a beneficiary this time around, but the prime directive is to test technologies that SpaceX will rely on for future missions to the moon and Mars.
Isaacman said he and SpaceX are splitting the mission cost, but he declined to provide any further details about who’s paying how much. Two of his crewmates for Polaris Dawn — Sarah Gillis and Anna Menon — are SpaceX engineers who specialize in crew operations and training. The fourth crew member is veteran fighter pilot Scott “Kidd” Poteet, who served as a mission director for Inspiration4.
Lots of the details behind the Polaris Dawn mission remain to be filled in: For example, SpaceX still has to create and test spacesuits that can stand up to the vacuum of space. But Isaacman was confident SpaceX would get the job done. “This is an organization that makes things that we never could have imagined and brings it to reality,” he said.