Seattle-area engineer and Arizona teacher join billionaire’s crew for charity space trip

Lockheed Martin engineer Christopher Sembroski (far left) and planetary scientist Sian Proctor (third from left) will join physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux (second from left) and Shift4 Payments CEO Jared Isaacman (far right) on a SpaceX Dragon orbital flight. SpaceXs launch tower at NASAs Kennedy Space Center in Florida is in the background. (SpaceX Photo)

The crew is set for a philanthropic space flight thats being funded by a tech billionaire and Christopher Sembroski, a Lockheed Martin engineer from Everett, Wash., can thank a college buddy for being part of it.

Sembroski will take part in the Inspiration4 space adventure organized by Shift4 Payments CEO Jared Isaacman, by virtue of an online sweepstakes that attracted nearly 72,000 entries and raised millions of dollars for St. Jude Childrens Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Sembroski, Isaacman and two crewmates are due to ride into orbit later this year in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.

Although Sembroski bought tickets for the raffle, he didnt actually win it: Instead, a friend from his college days at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University was chosen, according to The New York Times. The friend, who is remaining anonymous, decided not to go to space and donated the ticket to Sembroski, a dedicated space fan.

Sembroski said he was stunned to learn hed be taking his friends place. It was this moment of, Oh, Im going to space? You picked me? Wow. Cool. I mean, it was a moment of shock, he said today during a news briefing at SpaceXs Florida facility.

The 41-year-old Air Force veteran and former Space Camp counselor will serve as mission specialist and help manage payload operations, science experiments and mission communications.

Sembroski been living and working in the Seattle area for more than a decade, at ATS Automation, MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions and most recently as machine fault detection and diagnostics lead at Lockheed Martin in Everett. He told GeekWire that he aims to keep up with his day job and his parenting duties at home as well as his spaceflight training.

Its going to be a balancing act, he acknowledged. I do have a great team. I am fortunate enough to have an awesome supervisor and company that Im working for, that has flexible time and schedules and they understand that people have lives outside of work. I just cant think of any greater opportunity to take that extra time than to be part of this crew.

Sembroski said hes tried to use his Space Camp experience to inspire others to pursue their passions, with space exploration as the focus. Now, its an incredible opportunity I have to take that message to a wider audience, he said.

Chris Sembroski and Sian Proctor
Chris Sembroski and Sian Proctor are new members of the Inspiration4 crew. (Inspiration4 via YouTube)

The other crew member added to the mission today is Sian Proctor, a 51-year-old geoscience professor and STEM advocate at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix. Proctor was the winner of a separate Shark Tank-style competition designed to reward innovative use of the Shift4Shop online commerce platform. Proctor used the software to power her space-art venture, and won out over about 200 other contestants.

This opportunity is proof that hard work and perseverance can pay off in unimaginable ways, Proctor, whos a licensed airplane pilot and has applied multiple times to become a NASA astronaut, said in a news release. I have always believed that I was preparing for something special, and that moment has arrived with Inspiration4.

At todays briefing, Proctor noted that her father worked at the NASA tracking station on Guam during the Apollo moon missions. I like to think that space has been in my DNA, she said.

Shell be the mission pilot, backing up Isaacman in his role as mission commander.

Isaacman, whos a trained jet pilot and will be at the Crew Dragons controls, selected the fourth member of the crew last month. Shes Hayley Arceneaux, a cancer survivor and physician assistant at St. Jude. Arceneaux, 29, would be the youngest American to fly in space.

This week, the full crew traced the steps theyll take at NASAs Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the first time.

Its hard to walk up here like this in our flight suits and not imagine what its going to be like when were doing the exact same thing in our spacesuits, Isaacman, 38, said in an interview for NBCs Today show, conducted on the top floor of SpaceXs launch tower.

In todays news release, Isaacman said the goal of the Inspiration4 mission is to inspire humanity to support St. Jude here on Earth while also seeing new possibilities for human spaceflight.

Each of these outstanding crew members embodies the best of humanity, and I am humbled to lead them on this historic and purposeful mission and the adventure of a lifetime, he said.

Isaacman has declined to say how much hes paying SpaceX to support the mission.

The crew members will go through SpaceXs training routine for commercial astronauts, and ride the Crew Dragon that is currently docked to the International Space Station, known as Resilience. That Dragon is due to splash down with a foursome of professional astronauts in a month or so, and would be refurbished for launch no earlier than Sept. 15.

Because Resilience wont be visiting the space station during the Inspiration4 trip, the Dragons docking hatch will be replaced by a giant cupola window to enhance the view, Isaacman said.

Inspiration4s flight plan calls for having the crew conduct science experiments over the course of about three days, following an orbit that will extend out as far as 540 kilometers (335 miles). Isaacman said that would mark the farthest-out trip by humans since NASAs missions to service the Hubble Space Telescope, more than a decade ago.

Several other privately funded space missions are in the works including Axiom Spaces effort to send a crew of four to the International Space Station aboard a Crew Dragon in 2022, and Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawas plan to ride SpaceXs yet-to-be-launched Starship spacecraft around the moon and back in the 2023 time frame.

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