Inspiration comes from all walks of life even in the grip of COVID-19

LIFTOFF: The Inspiration4 three-day mission to space launches from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Thursday Guam time. Four civilians, including a woman who was born on Guam, Sian Proctor, are on this historic flight. Courtesy Inspiration4 Facebook page

Today Guam remains under the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more deaths and the number of cases rising above 200 a day. Just two months ago we were near zero.

If we want to stop the pandemic from controlling our lives, we can't loosen our safeguards.

Someday, we hope, the COVID-19 pandemic will retreat in our collective consciousness as simply another illness like the common cold or flu.

We'll deal with it as it happens, but otherwise, we won't have to worry about it all day and every day.

There will be a day when COVID-19 will no longer sway our decisions on traveling, dining out, or whether to send our kids to in-person school.

Still, COVID-19 is here, but that shouldn't stop us from celebrating a major achievement for humanity.

For a moment today, at least, we reflect on this milestone for the world.

For the first time, on Thursday Guam time, an all-civilian space mission called Inspiration4 took off.

Four people, novice American astronauts aboard the Inspire4 mission, made possible by SpaceX, will be circling around the earth for three days.

This is different from recently executed space flights in that not all the space travelers in this new mission are billionaires.

Some of them can be considered regular folks until they earned a seat on this space flight.

Guam connection

One of the four, Sian Proctor, who spent two decades as a college professor in the states, is a geoscientist and has proudly shared to the world, more so recently on social media and in a new Netflix documentary, that she was born on Guam.

Her father was stationed here as part of the NASA tracking station that played a role in the Apollo 11 mission that landed the first Americans on the moon.

Sian Proctor was inspired by a personal note and memorabilia her father, Edward Langley Proctor Jr., received from the Apollo 11 crew when they visited Guam in November 1969 as part of a world tour following the successful moon landing.

Among the memorabilia was a certificate of appreciation to Sian Proctor's father which included the famous quote from astronaut Neil Armstrong: "One small step for a man. One giant leap for mankind."

"Ed, thanks for the help," Armstrong wrote to Sian Proctor's father. Sian Proctor is carrying that note with her in space.

Sian Proctor was inspired by her father to aim to be a government astronaut for NASA. She was a finalist in 2009 but ultimately didn't make the cut.

The rejection was a setback, but she didn't stop dreaming. Reaching space became a reality for her as she turned 50. 

The youngest person on the space flight is a 29-year-old physician's assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Hayley Arceneaux had bone cancer as a little girl and was treated at the same hospital where she now works. She was offered a seat on the flight as someone representing hope.

While battling cancer, she kept her optimism up even during the toughest moments of her chemotherapy. Her story is part of the documentary about the four people on the flight. 

Jared Isaacman, the mission's commander, dropped out of high school but pursued his dream to be a tech entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments, as well as an accomplished aviator and adventurer, according to Inspiration4's website. He fills the flight's leadership seat.

Chris Sembroski, a retired veteran who worked on the Minuteman ballistic missile program in the Air Force, and who served in the Iraq war, donated to St. Jude, and the donation earned a chance for him to win the lottery for the flight's generosity seat.

As we speak, the four novice astronauts are circling the earth every 90 minutes at a speed 17,500 mph.

The rocket that propelled them, Falcon 9, is a reusable, two-stage rocket designed and manufactured by SpaceX for transporting people and payloads into Earth orbit and beyond. The reusable rocket itself is another technological feat and could make space travel more affordable to more people at some point. 

"The crew will conduct experiments designed to expand our knowledge of the universe," Inspiration4 stated.

Their goal supports a broader goal of SpaceX entrepreneur Elon Musk, who has expressed in recorded video comments that, ultimately, he'd like to see humans as a "multiplanetary species."

From our standpoint on Guam, the struggles of day-to-day life, such as joblessness, bills to pay, health scares and worries, and the quality of education for children in the midst of this pandemic, seem too immediate for us to connect to lofty, out-of-this-world goals.

But seeing people and an event that offer hope and inspiration – while the world is struggling – is worth a moment of reflection, if not celebration.

Our children and their children's children could have a more hopeful, maybe even better, future.

We'll take that as a way to get through the year. Or at least today.

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