NASA requires a former astronaut to take tourists to the ISS

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

New requirements from the agency will mandate that future space tourism trips be led by a former NASA astronaut as mission commander.

NASA says the new proposals are “lessons learned” from the first private astronaut mission (PAM) to the ISS last April – 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 dollars per ticket.

The new requirements have not yet been finalized, but NASA says having an actual former astronaut on board “provides experienced guidance for the private astronauts during preflight preparation through missions.”

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 “de-risking” 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 previously NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson as project manager. However, Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom, said during a press conference in April that the company has 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 commercial Ax-1 astronauts aboard the laboratory complex with a traditional post-docking ceremony.  / Credit: NASA TV

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


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

“With the value of hindsight, we were way too aggressive on our schedule, especially the first couple of days,” Larry Connor said.

“It’s been fast-paced,” López-Alegría said in a gap to the ground interview with CBS News while aboard the ISS. “I think that’s probably the biggest surprise, how incredibly fast time goes by.”

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

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

The Ax-1 crew also acknowledged after the mission that they found the 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 up here, things just take 33 to 50% longer than they normally do. And that’s even more true for people who have never been exposed to this the environment before.”

Other requirements include:

Explanations of the rules 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 before the expected launch date to confirm their feasibility, certify payloads and go through ethical review. “Significant research activities were not originally envisioned as a primary goal of private astronaut missions,” the agency said. Updated vehicle requirements for sleep accommodation and hygiene placement Addition of medical requirements for private astronauts Additional time in private astronauts’ schedules to allow them to better adapt to microgravity Additional requirements related to return cargo packaging to ensure smoother unloading and splashdown processes 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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