The few hiccups of the private Ax-1 mission gave NASA teams food for thought.
Last April, four somewhat special astronauts boarded a rocket to mark a major first: they became the first exclusively civilian crew to reach the ISS. Overall, the mission went pretty well.
But a few minor hiccups have nevertheless confronted the actors of the project with a harsh reality: becoming an astronaut cannot be improvised, even in the era of New Space. And NASA has learned the necessary lessons.
A veteran will have to be part of the trip
The first of these lessons concerns crew qualifications. If the mission went well, it is largely thanks to the supervision of Michael López-Alegría, a former astronaut now retired. His experience was invaluable in reassuring and guiding his mission partners, all novices, during this unique experience.
NASA now estimates that all civilian missions will require a veteran Of this genre. The person concerned will systematically inherit the role of captain, which will give him some additional responsibilities, but will relieve the rest of the crew.
A redesigned planning process from the ground up
NASA will also rethink the planning of its missions following the organizational difficulties encountered by these neophytes. Even if they were civilians, these new astronauts were not vacationers. They came aboard the station with an agenda filled to the brim with scientific experiments. Upon their return, they explained that they had underestimated the magnitude of their very busy schedule.
At first, this prevented them from completing their program as planned. But above all, this situation has also put a considerable pressure on professional astronauts who had to make some concessions for the newcomers. ” The arrival of Axiom personnel appears to have had a greater than expected impact on the workload of the professional ISS crew “explained Susan Helms, a former astronaut now a member of a safety committee.
Result: future civilian astronauts will have to submit their work projects at least one year before the launch date. NASA will therefore have plenty of time to study the relevance and feasibility of the mission; this will allow future civilian astronauts not to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of their task.
A more demanding physical preparation
Finally, NASA also intends to emphasize a fundamental point which was again underestimated last April: acclimatization to microgravity. “We went up there and, the least we can say, is that we were overwhelmed,” said one of them. “Getting used to microgravity is not something that happens overnight. » The participants will therefore have to comply with a more demanding physical preparation.
Most of these new measures will likely be rolled out on Axiom’s second private trip to the ISS. This mission, baptized Ax-2, has in any case hit the jackpot since it will be commanded by Peggy Whitson. He is an essential figure in NASA; she has already spent a whopping 665 days of missions in space! And as if that record wasn’t enough, his CV also boasts over 60 hours of spacewalking in a spacesuit and a host of other prestigious records.
She is also known for her uncompromising professionalism, but also her enthusiasm, her humanity and her teaching skills. It will therefore be interesting to follow the progress of this mission to see if this new organization will give better results.