NASA will require a former astronaut to escort tourists to the ISS

NASA doesn’t trust private individuals to travel to the International Space Station alone — instead, it wants them accompanied by experienced professionals.

New requirements from the agency will mandate that future space tourist trips must be led by a former NASA astronaut as mission commander.

NASA says the new proposals are “lessons learned” from the first private astronaut mission (PAM) to the ISS last April — a complex mission put together by Axiom Space. The crew included Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut and current Axiom Space employee, and three civilian crew members, who reportedly paid $55 million per ticket.

The new requirements have yet to be finalized, but NASA says having an actual former astronaut “provides expert guidance to private astronauts in pre-flight preparation through mission execution.”

Aside from any safety concerns, NASA said a former astronaut would provide a “connection” between astronauts working on the ISS and their super-rich guests — with the goal of “reducing risk” to ISS operations.

Before the release of the new guidelines, Axiom had already announced plans for a second private mission to the ISS in 2023, with former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson as mission commander. But Michael Suffredini, Axiom’s president and CEO, said during a news conference in April that the company has considered sending future missions with four paying customers instead of three, leaving no room for a professional astronaut.

The space station's seven long-duration crew members welcomed the four commercial Ax-1 astronauts to the laboratory complex with a traditional post-docking ceremony.  / Credit: NASA TV

The space station’s seven long-duration crew members welcomed the four commercial Ax-1 astronauts to the laboratory complex with a traditional post-docking ceremony. / Credit: NASA TV


The Ax-1 crew spent two weeks in space, which included conducting scientific research on the space station. Upon their return to Earth, they admitted that they worked harder than they expected during their stay.

“In hindsight, we were very aggressive in our schedule, especially the first two days,” Larry Connor said.

“He’s become fast,” López-Alegría said in a space-ground CBS News interview while on the ISS. “I think that’s probably the biggest surprise, how incredibly fast time goes by.”

Their presence on the ISS also affected the schedule of the existing crew.

“Essentially, the arrival of PAM personnel appeared to have a greater than expected impact on the daily workload for the professional space station crew,” Susan Helms, a former NASA astronaut and member of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Board, said during panel. meeting in May. “There have been some opportunity costs in the form of overburdening the ISS crew members and the mission controllers who support them.”

The Ax-1 crew also acknowledged after their mission that they found it difficult to adapt to microgravity, something NASA hopes to further address in the future.

“I think we underestimated how difficult the adjustment would be and how long it would take,” López-Alegría told CBS News. “You know, we have this phenomenon that astronauts call ‘space brain,’ when you get up here, things take about 33 to 50 percent longer than they normally do. And that’s even more true for people who have never been exposed to this environment before’.

Other requirements include:

Clarifications to the code of conduct that private astronauts must adhere to when boarding the ISS. “Private astronauts are not US government employees; therefore, they do not have the same restrictions imposed on government astronauts,” NASA said. Research requests to the ISS National Laboratory must be submitted at least 12 months before the expected launch date to confirm feasibility, certify payloads, and undergo ethics review. “Significant research activities were not originally envisioned as a primary goal for private astronaut missions,” the agency said. in microgravity Additional requirements related to the packaging of return cargo to ensure smoother release and launch processes The delivery of a communications plan for all media and commercial activities, including crew announcements, training, commercial partnerships, pre-launch, launch, mission operations, return and stakeholder roles.

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