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The Cover Story
The Next Frontier of Space
By Jeffrey Kluger
Editor at Large, TIME

You could fit all of the human beings who have ever flown in space—fewer than 600 of them—in a hotel ballroom. They’d have a lot to talk about because they’d have a lot in common: nearly all of them were hired, trained and flown as professional spacemen and women—people who list the very word astronaut on the occupation line of their 1040 form. All of that will change in September of this year, when Jared Isaacman—the 38-year-old billionaire CEO of Shift4 payments—commands a crew of three other non-professional astronauts aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for three days in low-Earth orbit.

There’s a lot to be said for such an all-civilian crew. In the course of reporting TIME’s Inspiration4 cover package, I got to know Isaacman and his crewmates—Sian Proctor, 51; Chris Sembroski, 41; and Hayley Arceneaux, 29—and came to appreciate something in them that I haven’t often seen in the dozens of professional astronauts I’ve met over the years. There is a certain ingenuousness to the new crew, a certain wonder at being in the position they are in at all.

“How the heck did this happen?” mused Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “I was just Hayley the P.A. and now I’m Hayley the astronaut.”

“I am constantly thinking about good execution,” Isaacman told me. “We have to fly well; we have to earn the right to be here.”

NASA astronauts, of course, earn their space wings too, but they come from a deep pool of test pilots and PhD’s and others whose lifetime glide paths took them naturally to space. Isaacman’s team came from the far deeper pool that includes all of the rest of us—and that, in many ways is at the heart of the mission, and the heart of their appeal. Space has always been a place for someone else, for the elite other. Now, slowly, with the short hops to suborbital space by Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and, much more ambitiously, Inspiration4’s 72 hours in orbit, space is becoming normalized, democratized. Isaacman and his crew are a fine choice to take those early steps.

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