In one of the most visually appealing Super Bowl commercials on Sunday night, Matthew McConaughey dressed as an astronaut. The ad opens with suggestive footage of McConaughey in space only to find him in a hot air balloon.
"It's not a time to run away, it's a time to commit," says McConaughey as his balloon zooms past green landscapes, cityscapes and a wedding. "While everyone else looks out over the Metaverse and Mars, we stay here and rebuild ours. The new frontier isn't rocket science. She's here."
The ad ends with a hashtag, #TeamEarth, and was apparently bought by Salesforce to boost its image as a company working for the good of humanity and our planet. Advisers have apparently convinced Salesforce that the best way to do this is to shame billionaires who are fascinated by and invested in the space. Which is interesting because Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is an investor in SpaceX and he said, "Space is a huge category to invest in."
That insincerity aside, the fact that this ad ran during the Super Bowl and took aim at space exploration should tell us something about the current public mood toward rockets and billionaires.
Fear of billionaires has peaked over the past year, which has been a watershed year for private space travel. Over the last half century, more than 95 percent of manned flights into space have been made by government astronauts in vehicles designed and funded by the government. As of now, it seems likely that 95 percent of manned spaceflight over the next half century will take place in privately built vehicles.
But the public has not seen the rise of private spaceflight as a democratization of space or as a good thing. Rather, the public has seen Sir Richard Branson ride his Virgin Galactic rocket, Jeff Bezos ride his Blue Origin rocket, and ride Elon Musk… well, Elon doesn't seem personally driven to go to space.
Many Americans are upset that Musk, Bezos and other billionaires are so rich. These Americans see billionaires' infatuation with space as "children in their toys" or an attempt to escape planet Earth, and fear that the rich are playing with rockets while the planet burns. Salesforce's announcement capitalizes on all that frustration.
But another billionaire jumped on Musk's rocket: Jared Isaacman, founder of the payment processing company Shift4 and also a pilot. And Isaacman is well aware of public frustration. Last year he bought and commanded the first private orbital spaceflight called Inspiration4. For this Crew Dragon flight, Isaacman invited a cancer survivor, a scientist and a lucky raffle winner to join him as he raised more than $200 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Three new missions
On Monday, Isaacman announced that he liked the experience so much that he will purchase three more flights into orbit in SpaceX vehicles. Two will be aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft, and the third will be the first manned spaceflight on SpaceX's spacecraft. Isaacman calls this initiative the "Polaris program."
The first flight will depart Kennedy Space Center in November 2022. It will carry Isaacman's business partner, Scott Poteet, as well as SpaceX engineers Sarah Gillis and Anna Menon. During this "Dawn" mission, the four will fly in a Crew Dragon and attempt to break the altitude record for a mission in Earth orbit. This record is 1,379 km (856.9 miles) and was set by Gemini 11 in 1966. The mission will allow astronauts to experience a higher radiation environment and, of course, see Earth from the highest perspective since the Apollo missions. . A century ago. Gemini 11 commander Pete Conrad called the view from there "absolutely amazing."
The Dawn mission will also conduct a spacewalk, during which one or more of the suited astronauts, connected to the Crew Dragon spacecraft by umbilicals, will venture out of the depressurized capsule. These suits will be an upgraded version of the current pressure suits worn by astronauts during ascent and entry to Crew Dragon missions.
Isaacman said he wants to use private missions like this to advance space exploration. He cited space suits as an example. In movies, he said, astronauts quickly put on a spacesuit and are left without an airlock. It doesn't currently work that way; NASA astronauts typically spend hours donning and depressurizing their spacesuits before leaving the space station. "If we find a way to speed up the EVA process, there will be real value," Isaacman said.
Let's be honest. The Polaris missions happen because Jared Isaacman is rich and desperate to get back into space. And again. And again. But he also seems intent on using these missions to shift spaceflight from extremely expensive and cumbersome infrequent flights to cheaper and more rational frequent flights. He wants hundreds and then thousands of people to live and work in space, and shares Elon Musk's vision of one day establishing a settlement on Mars.
"We just want to see progress," he said. “The US military delivered our mail once. If it had continued like this, we probably wouldn't have the option now to walk to the airport an hour early and fly to Orlando to see Disney World for a few hundred dollars."
Isaacman also understands the kind of backlash that led to the Salesforce announcement. In an interview with Ars, he said that he takes his responsibilities seriously. He wants the public to understand why it's important to go to space for myriad reasons, like extracting natural resources in space so we can conserve them on Earth.
"I'm very aware of that," he said. “He has been an important part of the Inspiration4 story from the very beginning. It has not escaped me that if SpaceX and the commercial space industry are to achieve their goals, including reaching Mars, they will need a lot of public support. It's important to get the message across that what we're trying to accomplish in space is important and will absolutely have real benefit here on Earth."