NASA Updates Private Astronaut Mission Requirements

Yesterday, NASA released an updated list of requirements for private astronaut missions to the ISS, and it seems that future tours will need extra supervision. Future private missions to the ISS will need to be accompanied by a former NASA astronaut.

ICYMI: In April, Axiom launched Ax-1, the first-ever private astronaut mission to the ISS. The crew of four—Michael López-Alegría, Larry Connor, Mark Pathy, and Eytan Stibbe—spent 17 days living and working alongside the existing ISS crew. López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut, served as mission commander.

All in all, the mission was declared a success, but it wasn’t without its pain points. 

  • In post-mission briefings, the private astronauts said they were grateful their trip home was delayed a few days because they had overloaded the first week or so with more than 100 hours of experimentation in addition to outreach events.
  • “In essence, the arrival of the Axiom personnel seemed to have a larger-than-expected impact on the daily workload on the professional International Space Station crew,” said Susan Helms, a member of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, in May.

During planning for Ax-1, “it became pretty clear, first of all, that customers really didn’t want to fly with nobody who has done it before,” López-Alegría said July 28. “Secondly, NASA was a lot more comfortable having someone who had been there before.”

Still, Axiom’s original plan before launching Ax-1 was to fly four customers by the fourth mission, without a professional astronaut accompanying the flight. 

New rules

With all new endeavors, there’s a learning curve. The agency is also mandating more time-management measures to ensure operations aboard the ISS can continue as usual during private astronaut missions.

  • Experiments conducted by private astronaut crews will have to be submitted to the ISS National Lab 12 months in advance.
  • Future missions will have extra buffer time at the beginning and end to allow private astronauts to adjust to the space station and microgravity environment, and to prepare for early departures when/if necessary.

What’s next? Axiom’s next private astronaut mission, Ax-2, will be commanded by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson. That mission is on the docket for sometime next spring. 

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