The pace of work burdened the private mission of astronauts to the ISS

The pace of work burdened the private mission of astronauts to the ISS

WASHINGTON – Private astronauts who spent two weeks on the International Space Station in April said they tried to put a lot into their program while at the station, burdening both themselves and the professional astronauts there.

In a May 13 press conference, the four people who flew to Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission at the station said that while on a good trip to the station, they overestimated how much work they could do after arriving at ISS April. 9 for what was originally planned to be an eight-day stay.

“Our schedule was very aggressive, especially at the beginning of the mission,” said Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut and now Axiom employee who commanded the Ax-1. “The pace was frenetic in the beginning.”

“With its ex-post value, we were very aggressive in our program, especially the first two days,” said Larry Conor, one of three customers who accompanied Lopez-Allegria on the Ax-1. He gave an example of an experiment that was scheduled to take two and a half hours to complete based on pre-flight training, but ended in five hours.

López-Alegría thanked the four Crew-3 astronauts from NASA and the European Space Agency who were at the station during their visit for assistance, calling them “extremely helpful, kind, polite, sharing” during their stay. . “I can not say enough good things about them and we really needed them.”

This had an impact on the Crew-3 astronauts’ work program. During a meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Committee on May 12, Susan Helms, a former NASA astronaut serving on the panel, said the Ax-1 visit did not present “obvious safety issues” but affected astronaut performance. .

“There were some real-time dynamics associated with flight crew schedules with the addition of these four Axiom men, who had their own flight targets,” he said. “Essentially, the arrival of Axiom staff seemed to have a greater impact than expected on the International Space Station’s professional workload.”

While the Ax-1 mission allowed some new science and the ability to transport some NASA cargo back to Earth, “there was also some opportunity cost in the form of excessive workload of ISS members and mission controllers supporting them on the ground.” , said Helms. He recommended the management of future private astronaut missions with “normalized procedures” that fully integrate them into the overall activities of the ISS.

“It’s our duty to reduce our crew weight,” Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space, told a news conference, adding that he was part of “lesson” discussions with NASA and SpaceX missions. at the station. “Over time, we will reduce crew liabilities.”

One way to reduce this weight is to extend the work for longer stays. The Ax-1 mission ended up spending more than 15 days on the ISS, instead of the initial 8 days, due to adverse weather conditions at landing points off the coast of Florida.

“It was a blessing to have the extra time,” said López-Alegría. “I think we were so focused on researching and projecting the first 8 or 10 days on the trajectory that we needed the extra time to complete the experience, having time to look out the window, get in touch with friends and relatives, just enjoy the feeling. “

Sufredini said the larger missions would have to be part of a busy ISS program and address issues such as the impact on the life support system of having 11 people there for a long time. He noted, however, that Axiom has scheduled 30-day shipments to the station and would like them to last up to 60 days.

“This flight was really extremely successful,” he said. “From our point of view, we will be a little more efficient, we will train a little differently, we will do a few things to help the schedule.”

He added that the company had sold three positions in future missions from the Ax-1, which included an agreement announced April 29 with the United Arab Emirates to fly an Emirati astronaut on a long-term mission using a position provided by the NASA in exchange for a Soyuz. Axiom seat had previously been purchased from Roscosmos. He refused to disclose the other registered customers.

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