WASHINGTON — Private astronauts who spent two weeks on the International Space Station in April said they tried to overfill their schedules while on the station, which put a strain on them and the professional astronauts.
During a press conference on May 13, the four people who participated in Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission to the station said that although they had a good trip to the station, they had overestimated the amount of work they could do after arriving at the ISS in April. 9 for what was originally intended to be an eight-day stay.
“Our schedule was very aggressive, especially early in the mission,” said Michael López-Alegría, the former NASA astronaut and current Axiom employee who commanded Ax-1. “The pace was frantic at the start.”
“With the value of hindsight, we were way too aggressive on our schedule, especially the first two days,” said Larry Connor, one of three clients who accompanied López-Alegría on Ax-1. He gave the example of an experiment that was supposed to take two and a half hours based on pre-flight training, but ended up taking five hours.
López-Alegría thanked the four NASA and European Space Agency Crew 3 astronauts who were on the station during their visit for assistance, calling them “extraordinarily helpful, gracious, kind, sharing” during their stay. “I can’t say enough good things about them, and we really needed them.”
This impacted the Crew-3 astronauts’ own work schedule. At a May 12 meeting of the Aerospace Security Advisory Group, Susan Helms, a former NASA astronaut who is part of the group, said there were “no obvious security concerns about the Axis-1 visit. “, but that it affected the performance of the astronauts.
“There was real-time dynamics related to flight crew deadlines with the addition of these four Axiom personnel, who had their own flight objectives,” she said. “Essentially, the arrival of Axiom personnel appeared to have a greater than expected impact on the daily workload of the International Space Station’s professional crew.”
Although the Ax-1 mission enabled new scientific knowledge and the ability to transport some of NASA’s cargo to Earth, “there was also an opportunity cost in the form of excessive load overload of members aboard the ISS and the mission controllers who support them on the ground,” Helms said. She recommended that future private astronaut missions be managed through “standardized processes” that incorporate them fully in the global activities of the ISS.
“It is our responsibility to reduce our load on the crew,” Axiom Space President and CEO Michael Suffredini said at the press conference, saying it was part of “lessons learned” discussions with the company. NASA and SpaceX that will inform future missions. at the station. “Over time, we will reduce what the crew has to do.”
One way to reduce this burden is to spread the work over a longer stay. The Ax-1 mission ended up spending more than 15 days on the ISS, instead of the original 8 days, due to adverse weather conditions at landing sites off the coast of Florida.
“It was a blessing to have extra time,” López-Alegría said. “I think we were so focused on research and outreach in the first 8 or 10 days in orbit that we needed more time to complete the experience with time to look out the window, get in in contact with friends and family, to simply enjoy the feeling. »
Suffredini said longer missions would have to fit into a busy schedule on the ISS and address issues such as the life support effects of having 11 people there for an extended period. He noted, however, that Axiom has scheduled 30-day missions to the station and would like to go up to 60 days.
“This flight was really a wild success,” he said. “From our perspective, we’re going to be a bit more efficient, train a bit differently, do a few things to help the calendar.”
He added that the company had sold three seats for future missions from Ax-1, which included an agreement announced on April 29 with the United Arab Emirates to fly an Emirati astronaut on a long-duration mission using a seat provided by NASA in exchange for a Soyuz. Axiom headquarters had previously purchased from Roscosmos. He declined to disclose which other customers signed up.