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Experienced astronauts will soon be required for private astronaut trips to the ISS

By: April Carson

Per new proposed restrictions from the US space agency, former NASA astronauts will have to escort International Space Station private astronaut missions under a planned re-entry procedure. This is to make sure that the space tourists are properly prepared for their journey and can return home safely.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has laid out a number of new requirements for future private astronaut missions, which it credits to lessons learned during the first commercial astronaut mission to the ISS that took place last April. Texas-based startup Axiom Space organized an all-private trip to the orbiting laboratory, which was a multi-million dollar journey financed by SpaceX and carried out by a crew of former NASA astronaut and current Axiom Space staff member Michael López-Alegría and three ultra-wealthy paying passengers.

Now, for any future commercial astronaut missions that include private individuals, NASA is stipulating that at least two members of the crew must have previously flown to the ISS on a government-sponsored mission. This requirement is in place so that there is always an experienced astronaut onboard who can take charge in the event of an emergency.

The crew aboard the Dragon capsule was completing its first mission, AX-1, when it docked with the ISS. The fourth member of the crew spent around two weeks on Earth's surface at least in part conducting experiments and other scientific work during the assignment. Other space tourism firms like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic only provide brief excursions that allow for a few seconds of weightlessness.

The most notable new policies for these expensive, private trips to the ISS are that "upcoming private astronaut missions will include a former NASA (U.S.) government astronaut as the mission commander," according to the NASA release. The change is effective immediately.

"As we open up the International Space Station to expanded commercial activity, including the participation of private astronauts, it's important to establish minimum requirements to ensure safety and operational continuity," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in the release.

According to NASA, the requirement is still being worked out, but having a former, genuine astronaut on board "gives experienced guidance for the private astronauts throughout pre-flight preparation and mission execution." The veteran NASA astronaut also "connects residents on the ISS with the private astronauts," which lowers risk to ISS operations and safety.

"As we open up low-Earth orbit to expanded commercial activity, including the participation of private astronauts, it's important to establish minimum requirements to ensure safety and operational continuity," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in the release.

Meanwhile, the first crewed mission to the space station is set to launch next year, and it will be financed by Elon Musk's SpaceX. The Inspiration4 mission was last year's most recent private spaceflight effort, which was backed up by billionaire Jared Isaacman and had a four-person crew comprised entirely of novices. This privately conducted trip, on the other hand, simply took a three-day spin around Earth in a SpaceX dragon capsule without docking at the ISS.

The second private astronaut mission to the ISS, dubbed AX-2 and expected to go up next year, will have former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson as a mission commander, according to Axiom.

At the International Space Station Research and Development Conference last week, López-Alegría recounted how he got the job of AX-1 mission commander after retiring from NASA, stating that he didn't anticipate to return to space after leaving NASA.

"I thought my spaceflight career was over," he said. "But then I got a call from Michael Suffredini, who's the CEO of Axiom Space, and he asked me if I wanted to come back and be the commander of their first mission, which isAX-1."

However, when Axiom was seeking for consumers, it became "pretty evident," first of all, that clients didn't want to fly with someone who'd already done it before. It also became clear that NASA was more at ease having someone who'd been there previously.

"I volunteered when we were having a meeting, and I was the only guy in the room that had been to space, so I put my hand up. " López-Alegría added with a chuckle at the event.

The AX-1 mission has also increased the number of points that must be completed to achieve the certification. These new requirements appear to be a consequence of new knowledge gained from the AX-1 mission. Future commercial trips to the International Space Station will need more time for "microgravity adaptation," as the floating nature of the station might frequently induce space sickness, which is similar to ship's dizziness. López-Alegría said that the new requirements will help ensure that private astronauts are "more prepared, better trained and more experienced" for their missions.

The Federal Space Agency of the United States will also release clarifications to the ISS code of conduct for business visitors, as well as more detailed plans for crew interactions with the media and a requirement for extra time to assess research proposals before they are taken on board.

According to CNN, an AX-1 crewmember named Larry Connor claimed that the station restricted his and his crewmates' research time.

"Private companies are paying for the privilege of sending their astronauts to space, and they want to make sure that those astronauts are getting the most out of their experience," López-Alegría said.

"We would never have been able to accomplish all of our objectives," Connor added at the time, "had it not been for the NASA's Crew-3 astronauts and their tremendous assistance. We underestimated the amount of time needed on a number of initiatives. We had one project early on that we thought would take two and a half hours but ended up taking five."

A NASA representative did not immediately respond to a request for further information on the new standards. They arrive at a time when the private spaceflight industry has finally taken off, decades after people have generally had to rely on government agencies and the highly selective astronaut hiring process if they wanted to go into space. Those who wish to leave Earth's surface now only need sufficient funds.

Axiom did not make any statements about how much money its first group of private astronauts spent for the AX-1 mission, but according to the Washington Post , each crew member paid $55 million for it. The customers on Spaceflight's mission, which is set to depart sometime in early 2021, will reportedly spend $35 million each. Blue Origin has not yet announced how much its first private astronauts will pay to fly on the New Shepard spacecraft.

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About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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