The final frontier: Reality TV takes a massive step for mankind and soars into space

Streaming on Netflix, four civilians are set to blast off from the Kennedy Space Centre on September 6 for a three-day trip.

Streaming on Netflix, four civilians are set to blast off from the Kennedy Space Centre on September 6 for a three-day trip. Photo: Netflix

Just when you thought reality TV had exhausted shooting locations for its wannabe celebrities – an island paradise, a McMansion or a suburban housing block – how about inside a multi-billion-dollar orbiting SpaceX capsule?

Netflix has just announced the first-ever documentary series to cover reality-TV action using videographers to film “in near real time” after sending four civilians into space for a three-day trip orbiting earth.

Titled Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space, the five-part series tracks Chris Sembroski, Hayley Arcenfaux, Jared Isaacman and Dr Sian Proctor on their journey to zero gravity and … beyond.

“From training to launch to landing, this all-access docuseries rides along with the Inspiration4 crew on the first all-civilian orbital space mission,” Netflix said in a statement.

It may not attract 600 million viewers, as the first moon landing did in 1969, but the hope of skyrocketing audience numbers streaming the series to their couches could see a new frontier for the entertainment sector.

Netflix will release the first two episodes on September 6, when we meet the crew. Episodes three and four on September 13 are about preparing for launch, and on September 15 we’ll be able to witness the live launch on YouTube.

There’s no date for the last episode … the return home.

The dramatic music, rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Centre and snippets from the four civilians will be enough to lock and load your monthly streaming calendar.

But what do we know about who got the golden tickets to space?

Mr Isaacman, commander of the trip and billionaire entrepreneur,  originally advertised for candidates during a Super Bowl advert for his company, Shift4Payments. He had bought the four tickets from SpaceX.

He did give the 72-hour reality TV experience some context in the trailer, making us feel its not just a romp for rich people.

“Our mission to space had to serve a bigger purpose which is why it is a $200m fundraising campaign for the St Jude children’s research hospital,” a member of the civilian aerospace display group, the Black Diamond Jet Team (and mountain climber), said.

A genuine moon child

When Dr Proctor, 51, was told on March 30 “You’re going to space”, she was so thrilled all she could say is “Oh my God!” while holding her face in her hands. The geology professor, science communicator and commercial astronaut won a ticket from the online competition put on by Mr Isaacman.

“The stars aligned for this, and I still can’t believe it,” Dr Proctor said on NASA’s website. “I wrote a poem about why they should take me, I read the poem and submitted the video of it. It resonated … and here we are.

“I was born on Guam directly because of human spaceflight, as my dad had worked at the tracking station during the Apollo missions. About eight-and-a-half months after Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the Moon, I was born—a literal moon landing celebration baby.”

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The civilian astronauts have spent months training for the big trip. Photo: Netflix

Ms Arcenfaux, a bone cancer survivor and physician’s assistant at St Jude’s, has been training for months. She says she’ll be the first person with a prosthetic body part to go into space.

Husband and father from Washington, Mr Sembroski says in the promo there’s a lot of risk. As he kisses his wife goodbye there will be one question on his and viewers’ collective minds: “What if something goes wrong?”

The promo gets more dramatic when we’re reminded that while there may only be four people on board the SpaceX, they represent the other “seven and a half billion of us … because if they can go, we can all go”.

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The stories they’ll tell! These four are about to become famous. Photo: Netflix

According to technology news website Recode (now integrated into Vox), SpaceX and Netflix are not the only companies hoping to capitalise on the “historic shift to commercial space travel”.

“The Inspiration4 mission and its streaming special mark a new era of live broadcasting from space,” Julia Alexander, a senior strategy analyst at Parrot Analytics, told Recode.

“The rise of space tourism also seems ripe for the streaming age, a time when people can watch these events almost anywhere, and the entertainment industry has already started turning billionaires’ joyrides in zero gravity into massive media events.

Stars in their eyes

“Shooting something into space, that’s something that’s going to bring in subscribers globally,” Ms Alexander said.

“The fact that they’re relatively cheap to produce compared to the high-profile, prestigious dramas with the big Hollywood talent” means the future looks bright for space-bound reality shows, she said.

Deals would need to be done with SpaceX as ideas from other companies emerge, including an unscripted reality TV show Space Hero, where a contestant wins a trip to the International Space Station in 2023.

According to Deadline, the series, produced Ben Silverman and Howard Owens’ Propagate, “will launch a global search for everyday people from any background who share a deep love for space exploration. They will be vying for the biggest prize ever awarded on TV”.

“I imagine SpaceX has some form of say in what is going on,” Ms Alexander told Recode.

“Netflix just wants to carry it and make the best docu-series possible.”

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