SpaceX is flying four private citizens to orbit on a three-day mission called Inspiration4, and Apple hardware will be key in a first-of-its-kind research study happening during the flight. These products include Apple Watch Series 6, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPad mini 4, as selected by SpaceX.
Shift4 Payments founder Jared Isaacman is funding the private spaceflight for four through Elon Musk’s space exploration company. Inspiration4 is also the center of a fundraising campaign to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the effort to cure childhood cancer.
Mission Commander Jared Isaacman, Mission Pilot Dr. Sian Proctor, Medical Officer Hayley Arceneaux, and Mission Specialist Chris Sembroski will each participate in health research studies while in space. The effort is a collaboration between SpaceX, the NASA-sponsored Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine, and investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine.
“It’s a pretty Apple-heavy set of projects,” says Jimmy Wu, senior biomedical engineer at TRISH and instructor for the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, “which is really great because the product speaks for itself.”
TRISH is a cooperative agreement with NASA’s Human Research Program that looks at how to minimize risk to human health and performance in space environments. Being external to NASA allows TRISH researchers to be more risk-tolerant when using technology to make scientific leaps.
Each Inspiration4 crew member will wear an Apple Watch Series 6 to collect “research-grade ECG activity, movement, sleep, heart rate and rhythm, blood oxygen saturation, [and] cabin noise” data. The Dragon capsule will also capture data on light intensity during the mission.
Researchers will be able to correlate health vitals captured with Apple Watch and environmental data captured by Dragon with cognitive test results. These results are gathered during the mission as each crew member performs a series of tests using a Cognition app running on iPad mini 4 tablets.
“NASA astronauts undergo rigorous training to prepare for the stressful mission,” TRISH explains. “Cognitive and physiologic data collected in the I4 crew will improve understanding of how the general population will behave and perform in space travel, which becomes more relevant as more spaceflight passengers explore our solar system.”
The neurocognitive performance study is led by Dr. Mathias Basner at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. While the Inspiration4 crew sample size is very limited, data collected from the research study can be combined with data from participants on future private spaceflights as well.
Crew members will also use iPhone 12 Pro as the data acquisition platform and screen for viewing images from an AI-guided organ scanning system called Butterfly IQ+. This ultrasound tool is designed for non-medical experts to use. Data from the study will be used to help determine if non-medical experts can “self-acquire clinical-grade images without guidance from ground support” while also providing a “timeline of biological changes before and during spaceflight.”
Following the Inspiration4 mission, the five investigators behind the human health research study will be able to pour over the data and learn for the first time how non-professional astronauts are affected by space travel.
The small sample size of Inspiration4 means we may not see specific data that could be identifiable for privacy purposes after this mission, but information captured will be the beginning of a larger collection of data gathered between a number of spaceflights going forward.
Learn more about the research taking place on Inspiration4 here.
The upcoming Inspiration4 mission is set to launch on September 14 from the historic Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Inspiration4 crew will travel in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule that previously flew NASA astronauts. The capsule will launch atop of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Stay tuned to Space Explored for the latest mission coverage!
Featured Image by Inspiration4 / John Kraus