The pace of work puts pressure on 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 fit too much into their schedules while on the station, putting pressure on both themselves and the professional astronauts there.

At a press conference on May 13, the four people who flew Axiom Space’s Ax-1 mission to the station said that while they had a good trip to the station, they overestimated the amount of work they would be able to accomplish after their arrival. arrival at the ISS in April. 9 for what was originally scheduled to be an eight-day stay.

“Our timeline 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 hectic at first.”

“With the value of hindsight, we were too aggressive with our schedule, particularly the first few days,” said Larry Connor, one of three clients who accompanied López-Alegría on Ax-1. He gave an example of an experiment that was scheduled to be completed in 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 his visit for their assistance, calling them “extraordinarily helpful, kind, friendly, sharing” during their stay. “I can’t say enough good things about them, and we really needed them.”

That had an impact on the Crew-3 astronauts’ own work schedule. During a May 12 meeting of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, Susan Helms, a former NASA astronaut who is on the panel, said the Ax-1 visit raised “no apparent safety issues” but did affect performance. of the astronauts.

“There were some real-time dynamics around flight crew schedules with the addition of these four Axiom staff members, who had their own flight goals,” he said. “In essence, the arrival of the Axiom staff appeared to have a greater than expected impact on the daily workload of the International Space Station’s professional crew.”

While the Ax-1 mission did allow for some new science and the ability to transport some of NASA’s cargo back to Earth, “there was also an opportunity cost in the form of overstressing the workload of the members.” on board the ISS and the mission controllers who support them on the ground,” Helms said. He recommended that future private astronaut missions be managed in “standardized processes” that fully integrate them into the overall activities of the ISS.

“It’s up to us to reduce our load on the crew,” Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space, said at the news conference, saying that was part of “lessons learned” discussions with NASA and SpaceX. that will inform future missions. to the station. “Over time, we will reduce what the crew has to do.”

One way to reduce that burden is to spread out the job 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 unfavorable weather conditions at the 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 additional time to complete the experience by having time to look out the window, check in with friends and family, just enjoy. the feeling.”

Suffredini said longer missions would have to fit into a busy schedule on the ISS and address issues such as the effects on the life support system of having 11 people there for an extended period. However, he did note that Axiom has planned 30-day missions to the station and would like to go up to 60 days.

“This flight was really a great success,” he said. “From our perspective, we’ll be a little bit more efficient, we’ll train a little bit differently, we’ll do some things to help with the timeline.”

He added that the company had sold three seats on future missions from Ax-1, which included a deal announced April 29 with the United Arab Emirates to carry an Emirati astronaut on a long-duration mission using a seat provided by NASA to exchange for a Soyuz. Axiom seat had previously purchased from Roscosmos. He declined to reveal the other clients who signed up.

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