NASA will require ex-astronaut to accompany tourists to the ISS

NASA does not trust private citizens to travel to the International Space Station on their own – instead, it wants them to be accompanied by experienced professionals.

New agency requirements would require that future space tourist voyages be led by a former NASA astronaut as mission commander.

NASA says the new proposals are “lessons learned” from the first private astronaut (PAM) mission to the ISS last April – a complicated expedition put together by Axiom Space. The crew included Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut and current Axiom Space employee, and three civilian crew members, who allegedly paid $55 million per ticket.

The new requirements have not yet been finalized, but NASA says having a former royal astronaut on board “provides experienced guidance to private astronauts during pre-flight preparation through mission execution.”

In addition to any safety concerns, NASA said a former astronaut would provide a “link” between astronauts working aboard the ISS and its ultra-wealthy visitors – with the aim of “reducing risk” to ISS operations. .

Prior to the release of the new guidelines, Axiom had already announced its plans for a second private mission to the ISS for 2023, with ex- NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson as mission commander. However, Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom, said during an April press conference that the company considered sending future missions with four paying customers instead of three, leaving no room for a professional astronaut.

The space station’s seven long-term crew members welcomed the four Ax-1 commercial astronauts aboard the laboratory complex with a traditional post-docking ceremony. / Credit: NASA TV

lessons learned

The Ax-1 crew spent two weeks in space, which included conducting scientific research aboard the space station. Upon returning to Earth, they admitted that they worked harder than they expected during their stay.

“With hindsight value, we were very aggressive in our schedule, particularly in the early days,” said Larry Connor.

“It’s been accelerated,” López-Alegría said in a space-earth interview. interview with CBS News while aboard the ISS. “I think that’s probably the biggest surprise, how incredibly fast time passes.”

Their presence on the ISS also affected the existing crew schedule.

“In essence, the arrival of PAM personnel appeared to have a greater-than-expected impact on the daily workload of the professional space station crew,” said Susan Helms, former NASA astronaut and member of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, during a panel. meeting in May. “There were some opportunity costs in the form of excessively burdening the ISS crew members on board and the mission controllers who support them.”

The Ax-1 crew also acknowledged after their mission that they found adjusting to microgravity difficult, something NASA hopes to address in the future.

“I think we underestimated how difficult the adaptation would be and how long it would take,” López-Alegría told CBS News. “You know, we have this phenomenon that astronauts call the ‘space brain’, when you get here, things take about 33-50% longer than usual. And that’s even more true for people who have never been exposed to this environment before.”

Other requirements include:

Clarifications on the code of conduct that private astronauts must follow while aboard the ISS. “Private astronauts are not US government employees; therefore, they do not have the same restrictions imposed on government astronauts,” NASA said. Research requests to the ISS National Laboratory must be submitted at least 12 months prior to the expected launch date to confirm feasibility, certify payloads, and undergo ethical review. “Significant research activities were not originally conceived as a primary objective for private astronaut missions,” the agency said. Updated vehicle requirements for sleep accommodation and hygiene location The addition of medical requirements for private astronauts Additional time in private astronauts’ schedules to allow them to better adapt to microgravity Additional requirements associated with return cargo stowing to ensure undocking processes and smoother detachment The delivery of a mission-specific communications plan for all media and commercial activities, including crew announcements, training, commercial partnerships, pre-launch, launch, mission operations, return and stakeholders’ roles.

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