Private astronaut missions to the ISS will soon require a NASA chaperone



CNN

Private astronaut missions to the International Space Station will need to be chaperoned by a former NASA astronaut, under new requirements proposed by the US space agency.

NASA released a public notice online tuesday which sets out a handful of updated requirements for future private astronaut missions, which the agency says are based on lessons learned from the first private astronaut mission to the ISS that took place. took place last April. The first fully private mission to the orbiting lab was a multimillion-dollar trip organized by a Texas-based startup Axiom space and launched via a SpaceX rocket, with a crew consisting of former NASA astronaut and current Axiom Space employee, Michael López-Alegría, and three ultra-wealthy paying crew members.

During the mission, dubbed AX-1, the four-member crew spent nearly two weeks off Earth’s surface, at least in part to conduct experiments and other scientific work. Other space tourism companies like Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic only offer their customers short trips allowing a few minutes of microgravity.

Among the most notable new policies for these expensive private missions to the ISS is that “future private astronaut missions include a former NASA (US) government astronaut as commander of mission,” according to NASA. update.

The requirement is still being finalized, NASA added, but the agency noted that having a legitimate former astronaut “provides experienced guidance to private astronauts during pre-flight preparation through to flight.” execution of the assignment”. The former NASA astronaut also “provides a link” between ISS residents and private astronauts, which the agency says “reduces risk” to ISS operations and safety.

Late last year, SpaceX launched the Mission Inspiration4which was funded by billionaire Jared Isaacman and had a crew of four made up entirely of people with no prior spaceflight experience. This private mission, however, simply circled the Earth for three days in a SpaceX dragon capsule and did not dock with the ISS.

Axiom has previously said its second private astronaut mission to the ISS, dubbed AX-2 and set to launch next year, will have former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson as mission commander.

    A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 39A carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft during a commercial mission operated by Axion Space at Kennedy Space Center April 8, 2022 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Speaking at the International Space Station’s annual research and development conference last week, López-Alegría explained how he became mission commander for flight AX-1, saying he doesn’t know. didn’t initially expect to return to space after retiring from NASA.

When Axiom was looking for customers, however, “it became pretty clear, first of all, that customers really didn’t want to fly with anyone who had done it before,” he said. It also became apparent, he said, “NASA was much more comfortable having someone who had been there before.”

“We had a meeting and we looked around the room and I was the only guy who had been in space so I put my hand up. I volunteered,” López-Alegría joked during the conference.

NASA is also adding additional requirements that appear to be the result of new information from the AX-1 mission. Future private missions to the space station will include more time for “adapting to microgravity,” as the floating environment of the ISS can often induce space sickness, which is akin to motion sickness.

The federal space agency will also make clarifications to the ISS code of conduct for business visitors, requirements for more detailed plans regarding crew interactions with the media, as well as a requirement for additional time to assess. research proposals before they are embarked.

AX-1 crew member Larry Connor told CNN in Aprill that he and his teammates were pressed for research time on the ISS.

“If it hadn’t been for NASA’s Crew 3 astronauts and their phenomenal help, we would never – emphasize the word never – have been able to accomplish all of our goals,” Connor said. at the time. “We underestimated the time devoted to certain projects. At first we had a project that we thought would be two and a half hours would take five hours.

A NASA representative did not immediately respond to CNN Business’ request for further comment on the new requirements. They come, however, as the private spaceflight industry has officially taken off after decades of people having had to rely largely on government agencies and the extraordinarily selective astronaut hiring process if they wanted to go into space. Now, those seeking to leave the surface of the Earth must simply have the means to pay.

Although Axiom has not publicly disclosed how much its first cohort of private astronauts paid for the AX-1 mission, the Washington Post reported that each crew member handed out $55 million for the flight.

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