SpaceX’s Private Polaris Program Aims for First All-Civilian Space Walk

May 26, 2024 | by

In 1999, fictional astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) pushed the boundaries of space exploration when he piloted an experimental spacecraft around the Earth. In the pilot of Farscape, Crichton was supposed to take advantage of Earth’s gravity to achieve incredible speeds. Instead, he slipped into a wormhole and rocketed across the galaxy.

Hopefully, the real-world crew of the upcoming Polaris Dawn mission have better luck.

Upcoming Polaris Dawn Mission Will Include the First All-Civilian Spacewalk

Planned for launch sometime this summer, Polaris Dawn will carry four civilian astronauts atop a Falcon 9 and farther into space than anyone has gone since Apollo for the first all-civilian spacewalk. It will be the first in-orbit test of SpaceX’s new EVA (extravehicular activity) suit as well as a new Dragon capsule, modified to handle exposure to the vacuum of space.

Polaris Dawn will be the first of three planned missions in the overarching Polaris Program, which aims to push the boundaries of commercial space exploration. The endeavor is being funded by billionaire Jared Isaacman, who’s no stranger to space. Isaacman flew on the first all-civilian SpaceX mission, Inspiration4, back in 2021. Part of the goal of that mission was to raise $250 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the Polaris Program supports the same cause.

For More on Space Exploration:
How NASA Fixed Voyager 1 from 15 Billion Miles Away
Radiation Could Limit Mars Missions to Four Years
Chimps in Space: Remembering Enos, the Chimpanzee Who Orbited the Earth

The crew is composed of Isaacman (Mission Commander), Scott Poteet (Mission Pilot), Sarah Gillis (Mission Specialist), and Anna Menon (Mission Specialist and Medical Officer), all of whom will spend up to five days in space and reach an altitude of 435 miles (700 kilometers). Once there, the four of them will conduct the first ever all-civilian spacewalk. They’ll also conduct research primarily focused on the effects of radiation and microgravity on human health, and test laser communications via Starlink satellites.

The launch of Polaris Dawn was originally planned for late 2022, but it’s been pushed back twice, first to March 2023, and now to summer 2024. The delays were primarily due to the development of the EVA suit, a critical component of the mission. Assuming Polaris Dawn gets off the ground this time around, it could lay the groundwork for future commercial operations in space, including the next two Polaris missions.

Details about the as-yet-unnamed Polaris Missions II and III are sparse, they’ll no doubt be informed by the results of Polaris Dawn. All we know so far is that Polaris Mission II will pick up where Dawn leaves off, carrying another crew to orbit in a Dragon capsule. Mission III will up the ante with the first crewed flight of SpaceX’s Starship. Of course, there are still some bugs to work out with that ship, like landing without exploding. The launch window for Polaris Dawn remains nebulous but nearby; the launch timeframes for Missions II and III are entirely TBD, which might mean there’s still time for you to throw your hat in the ring.

Catch Farscape streaming now on Peacock.


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