NASA requires a former astronaut to accompany tourists to the ISS

NASA requires a former astronaut to accompany tourists to the ISS

NASA does not rely on private individuals who will go to the International Space Station on their own, but it does want them to be followed by experienced professionals.

The agency’s new requirements would dictate that future space travel tours should be led by a former NASA astronaut as the mission commander.

NASA says the new proposals are “lessons learned” from the first private astronaut (WFP) 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 reportedly paid $ 55 million per ticket.

The new requirements have not yet been finalized, but NASA says having a real former astronaut on board “provides expert guidance for 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 their ultra-wealthy visitors, with the goal of “reducing risk” to the operations of the ISS. ISS.

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 the former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson as a mission commander. However, Axiom’s president and CEO Michael Suffredini said at a press conference in April 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-time crew members welcomed the four commercial Ax-1 astronauts aboard the laboratory complex with a traditional post-docking ceremony.  / Credit: NASA TV

The space station’s seven long-time crew members welcomed the four commercial Ax-1 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 their return to Earth, they admitted that they worked harder than they expected during their stay.

“In hindsight, we were too aggressive on our schedule, especially the first two days,” said Larry Connor.

“It was a frantic pace,” López-Alegría said in a space-earth interview with CBS News while aboard the ISS. “I think it’s probably the biggest surprise, just how incredibly fast time goes by.”

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

“In essence, the arrival of PAM personnel seemed to have a greater than expected impact on the daily workload for 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 undue stress on the workload of crew members aboard the ISS and the mission controllers supporting them.”

The Ax-1 crew also acknowledged after the mission that they found adaptation to microgravity difficult, something NASA hopes to address further 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 ‘space brain’, when you get here, things only take 33 to 50% longer than normal. And this is even more true for people who have never been exposed to this. environment first. “

Other requirements include:

Clarification of the code of conduct to be followed by private astronauts aboard the ISS. “Private astronauts are not US government employees, so they don’t 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 scheduled launch date to confirm feasibility, certify payloads and go through ethics review. “Significant research activities were not originally planned as primary targets for private astronaut missions,” the agency said. to microgravity Additional requirements associated with return cargo packaging to ensure smoother unlatching and un-anchoring processes The delivery of a mission-specific communication plan for all media and commercial activities, including crew announcements, training, partnerships commercial, pre-launch, launch, mission operations, repatriation and stakeholders’ roles.

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