SpaceX To Begin Training Astronauts For First Private Spacewalk

As SpaceX continues to progress with its commercial flights, an upcoming mission this year will have a number of firsts that could be crucial for reaching the company’s visions of colonies across the Solar System.

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A four-person crew will begin training this month for SpaceX’s next mission — known as the Polaris Dawn — that will see the first occurence of a commercial extravehicular activity (EVA) 500 kilometers above Earth, along with the debut of SpaceX’s extravehicular spacesuit.

In a recent interview, billionaire founder of Shift4 and Polaris Dawn commanding pilot Jared Isaacman stated that SpaceX will begin the training after the company finishes up their recent stretch of flights.

Polaris Dawn, which will occur on a Dragon spacecraft, will see the astronauts go up to an altitude three times higher than the International Space Station and further than any crew has gone since 1972. The craft will orbit through portions of the Van Allen radiation belt.

For Isaacman, the flight will be the first of three he’s booked with SpaceX. Joining Isaacman will be retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and fighter pilot Scott “Kidd” Poteet, along with SpaceX employees Sarah Gillis and Anna Menon.

Aside from spacewalking and operating at such a high altitude, the crew will be focusing on in-space communications by being the first to use Starlink laser-based communications. The final objective is research on health impacts and space radiation in order to advance developments on both Earth and in space. Among the research will be ultrasounds to monitor and detect venous gas emboli (VGE).

While no set date for a potential launch has been given, the Polaris Program — of which all the flights are apart of — states it will be no later than the fourth quarter of 2022.

“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great – and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past.”

It’s certainly been a busy year for both SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk. While the richest man in the world recently purchased Twitter for $44 billion dollars, his aerospace company has been completing a number of rotations to and from the ISS.

On April 4, SpaceX — which is now worth around $74 billion in its 20th year — launched a flight with four commercial astronauts to the station, which was flown for the Houston company Axiom Space. A NASA crew used a SpaceX Dragon capsule late in April for a four-and-a-half month trip on the station, while May 6 saw the return of a different SpaceX crew.

That return ended a six-month trip, and is just one of many since Musk’s ferrying services began in the hopes of commercializing space flights. According to NPR, SpaceX has now launched 26 people into orbit in less than two years, while eight of those 26 have been tourists. The others have been NASA astronauts.

The crew of the May 6 re-entry — three Americans and one German — reflected on their time in space, which comes at a point when divisive abounds on Earth. One of the members, NASA’s Tom Marshburn, called the station a “place of peace” and that its lasting legacy would be international cooperation.

SpaceX has contributed heavily to space research with its 16 Draco thruster-Dragon spacecraft, which has had 34 total launches and is the only spacecraft currently flying capable of transporting significant amounts of cargo to Earth.

Of course, commercial flights are just one of SpaceX’s many ambitions. President and COO Gwynne Shotwell believes a Mars mission could happen this decade, with a Moon mission occuring sooner. Musk has expressed similar sentiments.

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“The development of this suit and the execution of the EVA will be important steps toward a scalable design for spacesuits on future long-duration missions.”

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Those kinds of star-crossing goals are why SpaceX has put so much time into developing spacesuits like the ones they’re set to utilize. According to the Polaris Program, building a base on Mars will require thousands of spacesuits.

Though the designs and appearances haven’t been revealed yet, it’s an upgrade over the custom-fitted, pressurized suits that astronauts have previously been wearing on Dragon flights. “You have a new visor, new seals, then mobility, joints everywhere for increased mobility and dexterity in the fingers and such. I think, visually, it will be more along the lines of what it currently looks like, but very much like a new suit,” Isaacman said.

According to Isaacman, there are also upgrades to the material that will help the suits to better protect the wearers from from space debris, like junk fragments or rocks, during the planned spacewalk.

However, the crew will only wear the suit during launch and re-entry due to the Dragon capsule not possessing enough room to carry it into space. As Spaceflight Now notes, the suits will also be the first U.S. design capable of spacewalk since the current NASA suits debuted in the 1980s.

The suits will aid the crew well during their EVA activities, which they will prepare for through practice runs underwater to understand how the suit operates without gravity. For the Polaris Dawn, SpaceX, and Musk, both the suit and EVA are two crucial steps towards the exploration and colonization of new worlds.