Inspiration for these Times

By Sarah Treadwell – BMSIS Science Writer

For many of us, the past year has been a challenge. Businesses struggled, workers were laid off, and domestic violence rates skyrocketed. Students had to adapt to virtual learning, while parents strove to maintain work/home life responsibilities and sanity. There was a general uncertainty of how Covid-19 would continue to mutate and a slow vaccine rollout drew a sense of uneasiness amongst many. But quietly in the background, a message of inspiration was beginning to form. A message that was designed to not only to make history, but to do good and inspire hope. This message has now captivated the space enthusiast world and is poised to make a major impact on not only the space industry, but on the general public. 

The message of the Inspiration 4 mission. 

Inspiration 4 Mission Patch

Inspiration 4 is the first all civilian crew to fly to space, courtesy of a ride on a Dragon capsule aboard a Space-X Falcon 9 rocket. But this is not simply a joy ride into space… the entire endeavor serves a multitude of purposes to raise funds and change the game of who gets to go to space. The most notable objective was to raise funds for the St. Jude’s Research Hospital, an institution dedicated to fighting childhood cancer. To evoke the emotions to inspire donations, a crew was assembled to represent four pillars of inspiration. One astronaut to represent leadership, another one to represent hope. A pillar to represent generosity and the final to represent prosperity. While the intention of these pillars was to give inspirational stories to help drive donations to St. Jude’s, they have also unintentionally become narratives to provide a light in today’s uncertain times. 

Seats inside the dragon capsule. Image Credit: Space-X Twitter Account

The seat of leadership belongs to Jared Issacman, the mastermind and funder of the entire mission. Issacman sets a foundational example of ownership for our times. While fulfilling a personal dream, he is determined to also do the most good along the way. Truly, the greatest leaders often learn that in order to develop loyalty, they must lead with humility. A leader can not lead alone. In a time where the future offers great uncertainty, his pillar helps us remember to continue to follow our passions and create partnerships that allow us to be able to succeed. His role demonstrates that it is when we work with others, we push the boundaries to achieve our best. The seat of leadership also reminds us to forge forward with kindness and empathy.

The seat of hope was given to Haley Arcenaux. A childhood cancer survivor, Arcenaux is also an alumni of St. Jude’s Research Hospital and now a current employee. While undergoing treatment as a child, Arcenaux would frequently visit where people were donating blood in the hospital, thanking them for helping her and others to stay alive. After surviving rigorous treatment, Acenaux is determined to return someday to pay forward the gift of life she felt she had received. She also is the first person to have a prosthetic body part to go to space and is a willing participant in studying how this may affect her. Her story is incredibly moving and a reminder to all of us in these times to find hope when we feel swallowed into darkness. When we cling on to hope, it is then we can find the strength to share our gifts and selves to others.

Photo Credit: Inspiration 4 Twitter Account

Which brings us to the seat of generosity. Aptly named, it was a seat given at random to anyone who donated to the fundraising campaign of St. Jude’s. The shocked recipient of this seat went to Chris Sembroski, an Iraq War veteran and lifelong space enthusiast. Like most who play the lottery, Sembroski had no expectation of winning. Rather he saw it as an opportunity to give to a good cause, with maybe a very long shot of winning a seat to space. His message is one that can be very inspiring; it never hurts to help others. Even if there is no promised reward, the ripple effect that comes from generosity can make a huge impact. If there is a great message from his pillar seat for this time, it is that a small act of kindness can reap great rewards. You just have to be willing to give. 

The final seat holds the title of prosperity and the holder of that seat is an individual this author admits has some biases towards. This seat belongs to Dr. Sian Proctor, a two-time NASA candidate, teacher, artist and poet. I have met Dr. Proctor through several mutual circles and she is an incredible example of forging forward to find prosperity. She also is a role model to live life to the fullest and to never stop chasing a dream. After winning a competition to demonstrate a successful start up business, Dr. Proctor proved she had a story worth far more than entrepreneurial skills. She showed that even after rejection, “no” couldn’t hold her back. Despite age and personal life ups and downs, she reminds us that we all can still dare mighty things. While her seat is prosperity, it also could be considered a seat of perseverance. Her example is one that I personally look up to and admire.

Left to right: Chris Sembroski, Jared Issacman, Haley Arcenaux, Dr. Sian Proctor. Image Credit: Inspiration 4 Twitter account.

The past year has been challenging. With variants on the rise, Covid-19 will continue to push our patience. However, at the same time it also could be used as a moment to push our own boundaries to find personal perseverance through adversity. It is only with a theme of commonality, hope, and a drive to better ourselves as a species that will continue to see us through the challenges at hand. There is no better time to have such an inspirational and historical space flight than right now. When we we live our lives with a sense of hope, generosity, prosperity, and leadership… the stars are the limit.

To the crew of Inspiration 4 from all of us on spaceship Earth: Ad Astra per Aspera!

Sarah Treadwell is a science communicator and a science writer for Blue Marble Space Institute of Science. There she also helps produce the show “Ask an Astrobiologist” with NASA and SAGANet. She is the host of a weekly talk show called Cosmic Waves with Space Case Sarah on IRoc Space Radio. She also serves as a NASA/JPL volunteer Solar System Ambassador.