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Exclusive: SpaceX announces its next mission — here’s what to know

“We’re going to go farther into space than humans have gone since we’ve last walked on the moon,” tech entrepreneur Jason Isaacman said.
/ Source: TODAY

SpaceX is returning with a trio of new missions designed to bring people farther into space than they have been in decades.

The spaceflight company founded by the billionaire Elon Musk plans to return to space with Starship, which will carry astronauts and cargo to the moon and, at some point in the future, Mars.

SpaceX has announced the first commander will be tech entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, who was among those aboard Inspiration4 last September. The quartet of people onboard that mission was the first to orbit the Earth without a professional astronaut as part of the crew.

The new mission is called Polaris and will feature a similar ship flown by Inspiration4, although the goal is more ambitious in scope.

“We’re going to go farther into space than humans have gone since we’ve last walked on the moon,” Isaacman told TODAY’s Tom Costello.

The Inspiration4 mission raised $240 million for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Isaacman, who will fund three more trips to space, plans to utilize SpaceX’s new Starlink satellite network to help anyone in the world go to St. Jude if the need arises.

“You foresee a day in which a family in sub-Saharan Africa for example, who the doesn’t have the access to medicine that we have in the States might be able to link up with a specialist at St. Jude?” Costello asked Isaacman.

“Yeah, that’s absolutely the case,” Isaacman replied. “We also really believe in St. Jude’s, too, which is no child should die in the dawn of life.”

Isaacman will have company on Polaris Dawn later this year. He’ll be joined by veteran Air Force fighter pilot Scott Poteet, SpaceX operations engineer Sarah Gillis and engineer Anna Menon, who will work as the onboard medical officer. Two of them will make the first commercial astronaut spacewalk.

Is the crew nervous about what lies ahead of them?

“You know, I think it’s natural to have some butterflies but I deeply have faith in the SpaceX team,” Menon told Costello.

“We’re going to be prepared,” Poteet said. “We’re going to start training here pretty soon. There’s inherent risk in anything we do.”

While there may be some nerves, there’s also a sense of awe.

“I’m so excited to just see what it’s like, see what the environment is like,” Gillis said.

There is no specific date for Starship’s first unmanned orbital test flight, but it could take place within months, with Isaacman and the Polaris crew looking to take off an existing SpaceX rocket in November or December.