NASA is asking a former astronaut to accompany tourists to the ISS

NASA is asking a former astronaut to accompany tourists to the ISS

NASA does not trust private individuals to travel to the International Space Station alone, but wants them to be accompanied by experienced professionals.

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

NASA says the new proposals are “lessons learned” from last April’s first private astronaut mission (PAM) to the ISS — a complicated expedition put together by Axiom Space. The crew including 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 aren’t finalized yet, but NASA says an actual former astronaut on board “provides expert guidance for the private astronauts throughout flight preparation through mission execution.”

Adding to safety concerns, NASA said a former astronaut would create a “link” between astronauts working aboard the ISS and their ultra-rich visitors — with the goal of “reducing” the risk to ISS operations.

Before releasing the new guidelines, Axiom had already announced its plans for a second private mission to the ISS in 2023, along with the former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson as mission commander. However, Axiom President and CEO Michael Suffredini said during a news conference in April that the company is considering sending future missions with four paying customers instead of three, leaving no room for a professional astronaut.

The space station's seven longtime crew members welcomed the four commercial Ax-1 astronauts aboard the laboratory complex with a traditional post-docking ceremony.  / Photo Credit: NASA Television

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

Lessons learned

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

“In hindsight, we were way too aggressive with our schedule, especially in the first few days,” said Larry Connor.

“It was a blistering pace,” said López-Alegría in a space-to-ground battle Interview with CBS News on board the ISS. “I think that’s probably the biggest surprise, how incredibly fast time flies.”

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

“Essentially, the arrival of PAM personnel appeared to have a greater than expected impact on the daily workload of the space station’s professional crew,” said Susan Helms, a former NASA astronaut and member of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, during a panel meeting at the May. “There was some opportunity cost in the form of undue strain on ISS crew members on board and the mission controllers assisting them.”

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

“I think we underestimated how hard the adjustment 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 up here it just takes about 33 to 50 percent longer than normal. And that’s even more true for people who have never faced this environment before.”

Other requirements are:

Explanation of the code of conduct that private astronauts must comply with on board the ISS. “Private astronauts are not US government employees, so they are not subject to the same restrictions as 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 an ethical review. “Significant research activities were not initially envisaged as a prime target for private astronaut missions,” the agency said. Updated vehicle requirements for sleeping quarters and sanitation sites The addition of medical requirements for private astronauts Additional time in private astronauts’ schedules to allow them to better adapt to microgravityAdditional requirements related to return cargo packaging to ensure smoother undocking and launching processes. The provision 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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