For today’s review segment, we watched the first episode of Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space. “Countdown” is a beautifully produced Netflix docuseries following the all-civilian crew of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 as they prepare for spaceflight. It opens with a brief montage of space history and how outer space has captivated humanity since people first looked up at the sky; then it quickly segues into what it calls “Space Race 2.0”, the current space race between Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin that we’re seeing unfold in the news every day, a lot of which we’ve covered here on the Daily Space. “Countdown” is exciting — there’s rock music! Fast planes! Rockets going brrrrr — and like the mission, inspirational. The documentary excels at sharing the wonder and excitement of space travel, making viewers want to root for everyone involved in this new space race.
The first half of the episode focuses primarily on mission commander Jared Isaacman, a thrill-seeking millionaire pilot. Background on his life and journey to becoming a civilian astronaut are interspersed with technical information about the Falcon 9 rocket and orbital mechanics as well as brief interviews with Isaacman’s wife, colleagues, and even Elon Musk.
At one point the interviewer asks Elon Musk what he thinks about the criticism of “the so-called billionaire space race”, people saying we should spend more time fixing problems here on Earth before we go to space. He acknowledges that we should pay attention to issues here on Earth, but that he still believes in the importance and wonder of space exploration.
This allows for a neat transition to Isaacman talking about Inspiration4’s goal of raising 200 million dollars for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Issacman says with sincerity that he believes in the importance of leveraging his wealth and the publicity around Inspiration4 to help people. He says: …if we are going to live in a world where everybody is capable of going out and journeying amongst the stars, then we better fight childhood cancer along the way….the other thing is…the rest of the crew members have to represent the good we’re trying to do with the mission. We’re not going to go up with a bunch of fishing buddies…every person who’s going to join this mission has to be able to deliver a very powerful and inspiring story in their own right.
This is the foundation of what Isaacman calls their “mission pillars”, which drove crew selection. They wanted a crewmember to represent hope, a crewmember to represent generosity, and a crewmember to represent prosperity with Isaacman himself representing leadership.
The documentary then introduces the mission’s pillar of hope: Haley Arceneaux, a pediatric cancer survivor and St. Jude’s healthcare professional. We meet her mother, learn about her childhood cancer journey, and how she ended up on the Inspiration4 crew. It’s nearly impossible to not feel moved by Haley’s story; you can’t help but be excited for her, because, let’s be honest, despite all the problems associated with space travel, it’s still really, really awesome.
“Countdown” at its heart is about humans, not spaceflight technology. It hits every note we want it to hit about exploration, adventure, and triumph over adversity. All the things about space travel that move us. Just the one episode I watched for this review made me feel the same excitement I felt as a little kid at Space Camp.
All the talk about turning humanity into a multi-planetary species and the undeniable fact that this new space race is funded by billionaires make me feel like I’m watching The Expanse — TV show or books, take your pick — unfold in real-time, and I’m not sure that’s something to be excited about. Still, I want so badly for the good things, the inspirational things about this story to be true.
Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space is a limited series streaming on Netflix. Four episodes are currently available, with a fifth episode available on September 30.