The billionaire commander of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission is flying back to space again with a set of new crewmates.
Shift4 CEO Jared Isaacman and SpaceX jointly announced Monday (Feb. 14) the creation of Polaris Dawn, a mission set to fly a Crew Dragon to high Earth orbit in late 2022. The mission will be the opening shot for the Polaris Program, which aims both to conduct human spaceflights and to fund causes on Earth.
“The [Polaris] 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 program said in a statement.
Isaacman will be joined by three crew members highly experienced in aviation or spaceflight operations: Scott Poteet, Sarah Gillis and Anna Menon. Their goals include attempting the first-ever commercial spacewalk, testing Starlink laser-based communications in space and doing various scientific experiments.
Meet the crew with their mini-biographies below.
Jared Isaacman, Polaris Dawn commander
Jared Isaacman, 38, is a spaceflight veteran who commanded the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission that flew to Earth orbit in September 2021. He paid for the trip, having become a billionaire as the founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments.
Besides his business work, he has performed piloting duties including a high-speed circumnavigation of the world, air shows and owning a jet pilot training company (Draken International.) He has roughly 6,000 hours of flight experience.
Inspiration4 and Polaris Dawn will be the first two in a series of planned flights that Isaacman will take with different crews. Inspiration4 was charity-focused, raising $240 million for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, and Isaacman told the Washington Post he hopes the next few missions will be similarly beneficial for humanity.
He only agreed to take on the additional flights, he said, if they “serve the bigger purpose of opening up space for everyone and making humankind a multiplanetary species and, ideally, have a benefit for the things we’re trying to accomplish back here on Earth.”
Scott Poteet, Polaris Dawn mission pilot
Scott “Kidd” Poteet, age not disclosed, is a retired United States Air Force (USAF) Lieutenant Colonel and a pilot with more than 3,200 flying hours in aircraft including the F-16, A-4, T-38, T-37, T-3, and Alpha Jet, according to his Polaris Dawn biography. He also has more than 400 hours of combat time during Operations Northern Watch, Southern Watch, Joint Guardian, Freedom’s Sentinel, and Resolute Support.
His 20 years of Air Force work included several senior roles, such as commander of the 64th Aggressor Squadron, USAF Thunderbird No. 4 demonstration pilot, operational test and evaluation pilot and flight examiner.
Poteet comes to the mission as a long-time associate of Isaacman’s. His roles have included director of business development at Draken International, as well as vice-president of strategy at Shift4, both companies of Isaacman’s. Poteet was also mission director of Inspiration4.
Aside from his work, Kidd has competed in 15 Ironman triathlons since 2000 and is described as “an accomplished collegiate runner.”
Sarah Gillis, Polaris Dawn mission specialist
Sarah Gillis, age not disclosed, is lead space operations engineer at SpaceX. That role makes her responsible for the company’s new astronaut training program, for missions such as Inspiration4, along with NASA Crew Dragon missions Demo-2 and Crew-1.
Her biography states that Gillis is also experienced in mission control operations, including serving as navigation officer for Dragon cargo resupply missions, and crew communicator for Dragon human spaceflight missions.
Gillis joined SpaceX in 2015 as an intern while studying engineering and dance at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her original career aspiration was to be a classical violinist, but she changed her direction to aerospace engineering through conversations with a high school mentor: former NASA astronaut Joe Tanner.
In her spare time, Gillis enjoys hiking, climbing and wilderness camping.
Anna Menon, Polaris Dawn mission specialist/medical officer
Anna Menon, age not disclosed, is lead space operations engineer at SpaceX, managing crew operations development as well as working in the company’s mission control as both mission director and crew communicator. Her notable mission control missions, her biography states, include NASA crewed spaceflights Demo-2 and Crew-1, along with the uncrewed cargo missions CRS-22 and CRS-23.
“During her tenure at SpaceX, she 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,” her biography states.
Menon’s previous role was working for seven years at NASA, serving as biomedical flight controller for the International Space Station. This role included aspects such as supporting orbiting space station crews, working with international partner engineers and medical care providers, and serving as lead for Expedition 47/48’s biomedical operations.
As a biomedical engineer, Menon has worked to implement that experience in organizations including the World Health Organization, Engineers Without Borders and Engineering World Health.
Menon says her passion for space began in fourth grade, when she got to visit NASA on an “immersive field trip.” Her teacher, Alison Smith Balch, was daughter of space shuttle Challenger pilot Michael J. Smith; the elder Smith died during the Challenger shuttle accident in 1986. Menon’s hobbies include hiking, flying small airplanes, salsa dancing and family activities.