Space Commerce

Polaris Program Announced – Human Dragon And Starship Missions

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
February 14, 2022
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Polaris Program Announced – Human Dragon And Starship Missions
Polaris Program
Polaris Program

Today Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 (NYSE: FOUR), announced the Polaris Program, a first-of-its-kind effort to rapidly advance human spaceflight capabilities, while continuing to raise funds and awareness for important causes here on Earth.
The program will consist of up to three human spaceflight missions that will demonstrate new technologies, conduct extensive research, and ultimately culminate in the first flight of SpaceX’s Starship with humans on board.

The first mission, Polaris Dawn, is targeted for no earlier than the fourth quarter of this year and will be commanded by Isaacman, an accomplished pilot and astronaut who led Inspiration4, the world’s first all-civilian mission to orbit that helped raise over $240 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital®.

“The Polaris Program is an important step in advancing human space exploration while helping to solve problems through the use of innovative technology here on Earth,” said Isaacman. “On Polaris Dawn, we endeavor to achieve the highest Earth orbit ever flown in addition to conducting the world’s first commercial spacewalk and testing of Starlink laser-based communication. Alongside these important objectives, we will be supporting scientific research to advance both human health interests on Earth and our understanding of human health during future long-duration spaceflights.” Building upon the Inspiration4 mission, Polaris Dawn will continue to raise funds and awareness for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital®.


SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Polaris Dawn mission from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Dragon and the Polaris Dawn crew will spend up to five days in orbit, flying higher than any Dragon mission to date and endeavoring to reach the highest Earth orbit ever flown.
While in orbit, SpaceX mission control will carefully monitor Dragon and the crew as they: – Attempt the first-ever commercial spacewalk with SpaceX-designed extravehicular activity (EVA) spacesuits, upgraded from the current intravehicular (IVA) suit. The development of this suit and the execution of the EVA will be important steps toward a scalable design for spacesuits on future long-duration missions.

– Become the first crew to test Starlink laser-based communications in space, providing valuable data for future space communications systems necessary for human spaceflight to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

– Conduct scientific research designed to advance both human health on Earth and our understanding of human health during future long-duration spaceflights. This includes, but is not limited to:

— Using ultrasound to monitor, detect, and quantify venous gas emboli (VGE), contributing to studies on human prevalence to decompression sickness;

— Gathering data on the radiation environment to better understand how space radiation affects human biological systems;

— Providing biological samples towards multi-omics analyses for a long-term Biobank; and

— Research related to Spaceflight Associated Neuro-Ocular Syndrome (SANS), which is a key risk to human health in long-duration spaceflight.

SpaceX and Polaris Dawn will also collaborate with the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH), BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado Boulder, Space Technologies Lab at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Weill Cornell Medicine, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and the U.S. Air Force Academy.


The Polaris Dawn mission has many first-time objectives, so the Polaris Program chose a crew of experts who know each other well and have a foundation of trust they can build upon as they undertake the challenges of this mission. The crew includes:


In addition to commanding Inspiration4, Isaacman has over 7,000 flight hours of aviation experience, including ratings in multiple experimental and ex-military aircraft. He set speed-around-the-world records in 2008 and 2009, as well as 100 air show performances as a member of the Black Diamond Jet Team, all of which were dedicated to charitable causes. In 2011, Isaacman co-founded what would become the world’s largest private air force, Draken International, to provide realistic adversary training for the United States Department of Defense.


Poteet is a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel who served 20 years in various roles to include Commander of the 64th Aggressor Squadron, USAF Thunderbird Demonstration Pilot, #4 Slot, USAF Weapons School Graduate, Operational Test and Evaluation Pilot, and F-16 Flight Examiner. Kidd is a command pilot with over 3,200 flying hours in the F-16, A-4, T-38, T-37, T-3 and Alpha Jet. He logged over 400 hours of combat time in support of various Operations around the world. Following his Air Force career, Kidd served as the Director of Business Development at Draken International as well as the Vice President of Strategy at Shift4 Payments. He most recently served as the Mission Director of Inspiration4.


Gillis is a Lead Space Operations Engineer at SpaceX, responsible for overseeing the company’s astronaut training program. This includes the development of mission-specific curriculum and training execution for both NASA and commercial astronauts who fly aboard the Dragon spacecraft. She prepared NASA astronauts for the first Demo-2 and Crew-1 missions, and most recently directly trained the Inspiration4 astronauts, the first all civilian crew to go to orbit. Sarah is an experienced mission control operator, who has supported real-time operations for Dragon’s cargo resupply missions to and from the International Space Station as a Navigation Officer, and as a crew communicator for Dragon’s human spaceflight missions.


Menon is a Lead Space Operations Engineer at SpaceX, where she manages the development of crew operations and serves in mission control as both a Mission Director and crew communicator. During her tenure at SpaceX, Menon has led the implementation of Dragon’s crew capabilities, helped create the crew communicator operator role, and developed critical operational responses to vehicle emergencies, such as a fire or cabin depressurization. Anna served in mission control during multiple cargo and crew Dragon missions, including Demo-2, Crew-1, CRS-22, and CRS-23. Prior to SpaceX, she worked for seven years at NASA as a biomedical flight controller for the International Space Station.
To learn more about the Polaris Program, visit and follow along on Twitter (@PolarisProgram) and Instagram (@PolarisProgram).

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The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) supports innovative human health and performance research by leveraging commercial space opportunities with diverse mission crews and spaceflight providers. Empowered by NASA’s Human Research Program, TRISH is a virtual institute that finds and funds disruptive science and medical technology to reduce health and performance risks in space explorers. The Polaris Dawn crew will participate in a series of experiments, helping scientists advance the understanding of human biology necessary to protect future space explorers.

Crew members will participate in TRISH-sponsored space health and performance research, examples of which are:

– Checking their balance and perception to gauge their sensorimotor adaptation and motion sickness to changes in gravity. The test, designed for NASA astronauts, will compare results before launch and after returning to Earth with the goal of predicting who will need extra help adjusting to space.

– Collecting data on the physiological changes they experience during 5days in space. This helps researchers track body changes and anticipate in order to prevent medical conditions and performance decline.

– Testing their own cognitive performance using a standardized set of tasks also used by NASA astronauts. Spaceflight is stressful and mentally taxing as the body and mind adjust to the spaceflight environment–with daily use, this set of tests can assess changes in crew behavior and brain performance.

– Capturing ultrasound images key for identifying medical problems that could threaten the health of the crew and the success of the mission. Using an Artificial intelligence-equipped device could be a boon for non-medical experts needing to monitor their own organs and veins during space missions. The crew will capture in-flight scans and create a timeline of body changes.

– Testing a gamified medical procedure training platform to test whether the crew can respond to an emergent clinical need without guidance from Earth.

– Monitoring their vision. NASA has identified Space Associated Neuro-Ocular Syndrome (SANS) as a risk to the vision of astronauts on extended missions. The Polaris Dawn crew will test their eye functions, eye movement, and perform retinal imaging at multiple points on the journey.

– Tracking their radiation exposure. The crew will go farther from Earth than any human since the Apollo missions and is expected to be exposed to a high dose of space radiation. Studying the Polaris Dawn crew’s physiologic and performance response to this level of radiation exposure will inform on the risks to astronauts who will journey back to the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program.

– Collecting multiple biosamples before, during, and after spaceflight to perform a longitudinal, multi-omic analysis of the crew, including genome, epigenome, transcriptome, proteome, microbiome, metabolome, exosome, telomere, single-cell V(D)J immunophenotyping and epitope maps, and spatial transcriptome analysis.

– A key component of the research projects is the archiving and sharing of biomedical results, biobanking, and research data. TRISH has developed EXPAND, a program that enables the seamless intake, archiving, standardization and sharing of coded/de-identified research and biomedical data including biosamples with the end goal of increasing the body of evidence, safety and enhancing human health and performance during spaceflight.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.