The pace of work is straining the private missions of astronauts on the ISS

WASHINGTON – Private astronauts who spent two weeks on the International Space Station in April said they tried to invest too much in their schedule while on the station, creating a workload for both themselves and professional astronauts.

At a press conference on May 13, four people who flew to the station with the Axiom Space Ax-1 mission said that although they drove well to the station, they overestimated how much work they could do after their arrival on the ISS on April 9th for the fact that an eight-day stay was originally planned.

“Our schedule was very aggressive, especially at the beginning of the mission,” said Michael Lopez-Allegria, a former NASA astronaut and current Axiom employee who commanded Ax-1. “At first the pace was insane.”

“Given the back day, we were too aggressive in our schedule, especially in the first couple of days,” said Larry Connor, one of the three clients who accompanied Lopez-Allegri on the Ax-1. He gave the example of one experiment, which was planned to take two and a half hours on the basis of pre-flight training, but in the end it took five hours.

Lopez-Allegria thanked four Crew-3 astronauts from NASA and the European Space Agency who were at the station during their visit for their help, calling them “extraordinarily helpful, kind, kind, sincere” during their stay. “I can’t say good enough about them, and we really need them.”

This affected the crew’s astronauts ’own work schedule. During a meeting of the Aerospace Security Advisory Group on May 12, Susan Helms, a former NASA astronaut who is part of the group, said the Ax-1 visit “did not pose obvious security concerns,” but it did affect astronauts’ performance.

“There was some real-time dynamics related to the timing of the flight crew with the addition of these four Axiom employees who had their own flight targets,” she said. “In fact, the arrival of Axiom personnel seemed to have had a greater-than-expected impact on the daily workload of the International Space Station’s professional crew.”

Although the Ax-1 mission provided some new science and the ability to transport some NASA cargo back to Earth, “there was also some alternative cost in the form of overloading ISS members and mission controllers who support them on Earth.” said Helms. She recommended managing future private missions of astronauts as part of “standardized processes” that fully integrate them into the overall activities of the ISS.

“It is up to us to reduce the burden on the crew,” said Michael Sufredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space, at a news conference, saying it was part of discussions with NASA and SpaceX about “lessons learned” that would inform future missions. to the station. “Over time, we will reduce what the crew needs to do.”

One way to reduce this load is to stretch the work for a longer stay. As a result, the Ax-1 mission spent more than 15 days on the ISS, and the initial 8 days, due to adverse weather conditions at landing sites off the coast of Florida.

“It was a blessing to have extra time,” Lopez-Allegria said. “I think we were so focused on research and advocacy in the first 8 or 10 days in orbit that it took us extra time to complete the experience, having time to look out the window, make contact with friends and family, just enjoy the sensation ”.

Suffrin said that longer missions should fit into the busy schedule on the ISS and address issues such as the impact on the livelihood system when 11 people are there for a long time. However, he noted that Axiom has planned 30-day missions to the station and would like to pass up to 60 days.

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

He added that the company has sold three seats in future missions after Ax-1, including April 29 announced an agreement with the United Arab Emirates on the flight of the Emirati astronaut on a long mission using a seat provided by NASA in exchange for the Union seat that Axiom had previously acquired from Roscosmos. He declined to disclose other customers who signed up. The pace of work is straining the private missions of astronauts on the ISS

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