Private astronauts who spent two weeks on the International Space Station in April said they tried to put too much into their schedules while on the station, causing themselves and the professional astronauts there to tire out.
At a press conference on May 13, the four people who traveled aboard Axiom Space Company’s mission to the station said that while they had a good trip to the station, they overestimated the amount of work they could accomplish after arriving at the International Space Station in April. . 9 for what was originally intended to be an eight-day stay.
“Our schedule was very strict, especially early in the mission,” said Michael Lopez Allegria, the former NASA astronaut and current Axiom employee who commanded Ax-1. “The pace was frenetic at first.”
“With the value of hindsight, we were very aggressive with our schedule, especially in the first two days,” said Larry Connor, one of the three customers who accompanied López-Alegría on the Ax-1. He gave the example of one experiment that was scheduled to take two and a half hours to complete based on pre-test training but ended up with five hours.
López-Alegría thanked the four NASA and ESA astronauts who were at the station during their visit for assistance, describing them as “very helpful, generous, kind, sharing” during their stay. “I can’t say enough good things about them, and we really needed them.”
This had an impact on the work schedule of the Crew 3 astronauts. During the May 12 meeting of the Space Safety Advisory Committee, Susan Helms, a former NASA astronaut who serves on the committee, said the Ax-1 visit did not raise “any obvious safety issues” but did. Already affected the performance of astronauts.
“There were some real-time dynamics related to flight crew schedules with the addition of these four Axiom personnel, who have their own flight objectives,” she said. “In essence, the arrival of the Axiom personnel appears to have had a greater than expected impact on the daily workload of the professional ISS crew.”
While the Ax-1 mission allowed for some new science, and the ability to move some NASA cargo back to Earth, “there was also some opportunity cost in the form of excessive strain on the workload of ISS members on board and mission controllers,” Helms said. It recommended that future astronauts’ special missions be run in “natural processes” that would fully integrate them into the overall ISS activities.
“We have to reduce the burden on the crew,” said Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space, at the press 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 this burden is to make the work last longer. The Ax-1 mission ended up spending more than 15 days on the International Space Station, instead of the original eight, due to unfavorable weather conditions at the 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 outreach in the first 8 or 10 days in orbit that we needed extra time to complete the experiment by making time to look out the window, connect with friends and family, to just enjoy the sensations.”
Suffredini said the longer missions should fit into a busy schedule at the International Space Station and address issues such as the effects on the life support system of having 11 people there for such an extended period. He noted, however, that Axiom planned 30-day missions to the station and would like them to last 60 days.
“This trip was really successful,” he said. “From our point of view, we’ll be a little more efficient, train a little differently, and do a few things to help set the schedule.”
He added that the company has sold three seats on future missions since the Ax-1, which included an agreement announced on April 29 with the United Arab Emirates to transport an Emirati astronaut on a long-term mission using a seat provided by NASA in exchange for a Soyuz plane. Axiom had previously purchased a seat from Roscosmos. He declined to reveal other customers who had registered.