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Billionaire plans new SpaceX mission with spacewalk, eventual goal of 1st Starship human flight

The crew of the Polaris Dawn mission of the Polaris Program are from left, SpaceX employee, mission specialist and medical officer Anna Menon, mission pilot Scott Poteet, mission commander and billionaire Jared Isaacman and SpaceX employee and mission specialist Sarah Gillis. (John Kraus/Polaris Program/TNS)

One trip to space was not enough for billionaire Jared Issacman who has paired up with SpaceX again for a new mission following last year’s Inspiration4.

Once again, Isaacman is spacebound, but this time looking to be among the first civilians to perform a spacewalk while trying to reach the highest ever Earth orbit flown by humans. The mission, called Polaris Dawn, is the first of up to three missions of the Polaris Program, which announced its plans Monday with a website and social media channels. Similar to Inspiration4, Isaacman is taking three passengers with him on board a SpaceX Dragon to launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center.

And once again Isaacman is partnered with the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, for which his Inspiration4 mission raised more than $240 million.

“The Polaris Program is an important step in advancing human space exploration while helping to solve problems through the use of innovative technology here on Earth,” said Isaacman in a press release. “On Polaris Dawn, we endeavor to achieve the highest Earth orbit ever flown in addition to conducting the world’s first commercial spacewalk and testing of Starlink laser-based communication. Alongside these important objectives, we will be supporting scientific research to advance both human health interests on Earth and our understanding of human health during future long-duration spaceflights.”

The new flight will launch no earlier than the fourth quarter of 2022, according to the website.

The other three passengers are Scott Poteet, given the title of mission pilot; specialist Sarah Gillis; and specialist and medical officer Anna Menon.

Poteet, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and demonstration pilot with the Thunderbirds, acted as mission director for the Inspiration4 flight. He also worked as a vice president for strategy for Isaacman’s company Shift4, the credit card processing firm from which Isaacman earned his fortune. Isaacman paid SpaceX an undisclosed fund for the three-day orbital flight last fall.

Gillis is a SpaceX employee who oversees its astronaut training program. She’s worked with both NASA and commercial astronauts who have flown on Crew Dragon including Demo-2, Crew-1 and the Inspiration4 missions.

Menon, like Gillis, holds the title of Lead Space Operations Engineer at SpaceX, and worked in mission control for several Dragon missions. Before SpaceX, she worked at NASA as a biomedical flight controller for the International Space Station.

The mission aims to fly for five days in orbit and test an upgraded SpaceX-designed extravehicular activity spacesuit.

Science research planned for the mission include using ultrasound to monitor gas in human veins, study decompression sickness, study space radiation on human biology, provide human samples for study, and give more research for the known degraded vision issue associated with long-term spaceflight.

The Polaris Program also plans for a second mission in Crew Dragon at an undetermined date, but then a final third mission touting it as the “first-human spaceflight on Starship.”

It’s unclear if Isaacman or the others involved in Polaris Dawn will be involved in the following flights, but all four did a fly-by of the stacked Starship and Super Heavy booster at SpaceX’s Boca Chica, Texas facility the company calls Starbase this week.

Starship is the next-generation rocket being developed by SpaceX that when combined with the Super Heavy booster can eventually fly to the moon and Mars. The first test flight of the Starship with Super Heavy is awaiting a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration. SpaceX has optimistic plans to receive that license as early as March with the flight to come within a couple months from Starbase, but plans could shift that first flight to Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk said construction on its Starship launch apparatus at KSC should be done before year’s end. Down the road, SpaceX plans flights for Starship from both KSC and Texas.

Musk alluded to the Polaris Program announcement when he spoke to employees and media from Starbase last week, saying that there were many customers who would be interested in using Starship.

“I don’t want to steal their thunder to make their announcements,” Musk said. “Once we make this work, it’s an utterly profound breakthrough in access to orbit.”


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