NASA's private spaceflight move paves the way for future space tourism

These regulations reflect “lessons learned” from Axiom Space's first private mission. NASA plans to make the changes to better facilitate future flights.
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Rocket launch
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  • NASA astronauts will serve as mission commanders for all private space missions.
  • The agency will require more time for the astronauts to practice microgravity.
  • Public information must be distributed in accordance with NASA's new regulations.

NASA wants to regulate private astronaut space ventures.

The rules necessary for upcoming private astronaut flights have been updated by the space agency, according to a statement published in Gizmodo.

The list, documented as part of the Private Astronaut Mission Authorization, Coordination, and Execution (PACE) Annex 1, was released on Monday.

The update included the stipulation that all future missions be led by former NASA astronauts.

These revisions reflect “lessons learned” from the Axiom space's first private astronaut voyage to the International Space Station (ISS) in April.

NASA astronaut will serve as the mission commander and provide guidance “during pre-flight preparation through mission execution,” read the update.

NASA's experience with Axiom

Axiom Space was planning to send future missions without a NASA astronaut aboard, having four paying customers instead of three, according to SpaceNews.

Axiom's Ax-1 mission conducted several research experiments aboard the ISS, including the first two-way holoportation experiment in space and an EEG-enabled space helmet.

Holoportation is a new 3D capture technology that allows high-quality 3D models of people to be reconstructed, compressed, and transmitted anywhere in the world in real-time.

Ax-1 crew consisted of three wealthy investors and entrepreneurs: Larry Connor, Eytan Stibbe, and Mark Pathy, who had never been to space before. They were joined by Michael López-Alegría, Ax-1 mission commander and a former NASA astronaut. The group admitted that they were taken aback by the amount of work they had to do on the ISS.

“We got up there and, boy, we were overwhelmed,” López-Alegría said during a press conference after the mission.

NASA's private spaceflight move paves the way for future space tourism
Mike Lopez-Alegria and Larry Connor in SpaceX training.
Flickr/Axiom Space

The former NASA astronaut said, “Getting used to zero gravity is not an overnight thing.”

The crew's presence also placed pressure on the existing crew's schedule.

“In essence, the arrival of the Axiom personnel seemed to have a larger-than-expected impact on the daily workload on the professional International Space Station crew,” said Susan Helms, a former NASA astronaut and member of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, during a panel meeting in May.

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The new constraints may have an influence on the commercial space industry's initial plan to fly missions without a NASA astronaut in control, though it is unclear how.

New requirements

Private missions must submit their research proposals at least a year ahead of the anticipated launch date so that they may be evaluated from a “feasibility and implementation aspect,” according to the revised requirements.

In order to help the astronauts better adjust to the spaceflight environment, NASA will also require more time for the astronauts to practice microgravity before their launch.

The information must be distributed to the general public during training, pre-launch, in-orbit operations, and return to Earth activities, in accordance with the new regulations.

NASA and Axiom Space are preparing for the second private flight to the ISS. Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut, will pilot Ax-2, which is expected to lift off sometime next spring.

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