Private flights to the ISS will soon be manned by retired astronauts.
NASA has changed its guidelines on private missions to the International Space Station or ISS to require retired astronauts to serve as mission commander on these trips. On Wednesday, the space agency issued a notice that has yet to be finalized but indicated that the goal was to improve passenger safety and lessen any strain on existing ISS operations.
NASA recommended retired astronauts to serve as mission commanders because they would provide “experienced guidance for the private astronauts during pre-flight preparation through mission execution,” Engadget reported. Other benefits of having retired astronauts as mission commanders on private flights to the ISS include new medical standards for private astronauts, increased lead time for private research projects, improvements to policies involving return cargo, and more time for private astronauts to adjust to microgravity.
New NASA Requirements Resulted from Learnings of Previous Private ISS Trip
NASA’s notice explained that these updates to the requirement for private flights to the ISS were drawn from “lessons learned” during the Axiom Space flight in April, wherein passengers paid $55 per head to fly on the first private astronaut mission to the space station. The two-week trip, which required passengers to conduct their own research, took a toll on the ISS crew and the Axiom crew, spurring NASA to create a new set of guidelines for private trips to the ISS.
The Axiom Space flight was helmed by former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, who now serves as the Chief Astronaut at the Texas-based private space company. Axiom had already been considering equipping future missions with a professional astronaut because it would free up another seat for more paying passengers on board, the company’s president Michael Suffredini said during a press conference earlier this year
NASA’s new requirement of having retired astronauts serve as mission commander on private trips to the ISS is seen as an effort to prevent unsupervised missions to the International Space Station.
Axiom Shares Learnings From Previous Private Space Flights
Axiom is set to host another private mission to the ISS in 2023, which will be manned by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson as mission commander, CBS News reported. But before then, they are expected to apply several learnings from the previous private flights to the ISS to the next one.
Axiom or Ax-1 crew Larry Connor admitted that on the previous mission, they were “way too aggressive on our schedule,” with López-Alegría agreeing, adding that it was truly “fast-paced.” The arrival of the people on board the private space flight also impacted the daily workload of the ISS crew.
Back in May, former NASA astronaut and member of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel Susan Helms remarked that there were costs involved in how the private flights to the ISS caused “overly stressing [of] the workload” of the crewmembers on the space station as well as the mission controllers who supported them.
There are currently more than 200 retired living NASA astronauts today, but it remains unclear how many of them would be capable enough to serve as mission commander on future private flights to the ISS.