The crew of Axiom-1, the first purely private mission to the International Space Station, found that the workload in space was heavier than expected.
The Axiom 1 crew, Eytan Stibbe, Larry Connor and Mark Pathy, who each paid $55 million for the flight, along with mission commander and former Nasa ISS astronaut Michael López-Alegría, met on the 9th day mission, found their workload but quickly exhausting, according to the reports from space news.
“In the beginning the pace was hectic” space news reported López-Alegría at the May 13 press conference after the crew’s return.
That pace created inevitable bottlenecks in the planned science experiments the Axiom-1 crew was conducting, which in turn kept Nasa astronauts from their duties to help, according to Laura Forczyk, owner of space consulting firm Astralytical, who said the problem was occurred at a recent meeting of the Nasa Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel.
“It put a heavy strain on not only the crew but Mission Control as well,” she said.
The Axiom-1 crew ended up spending more time in space than expected, 15 days instead of eight due to bad weather on Earth, and returned on April 25.
“I imagine they were relieved that they had to delay their return for so long,” Ms Forczyk said. “You could take the time to look out the window.”
But the difficulties faced by the Axiom-1 crew weren’t just a matter for untrained private astronauts unaccustomed to the rigors of working in space, Ms Forcyzk said, and Mr Stibbe is even a former Israeli fighter pilot. Nor was it the first time Mr. López-Alegría had been in space.
“They were very well trained, they went through months of training with Axiom, similar to the type of training that NASA does,” she said. “I think the main culprit was that they took on too much.”
Ms. Forczyk finds it surprising that Axiom has rescheduled its crew given the experience of Mr. López-Alegría and other executives with Nasa experience at Axiom Space, the company behind the Axiom-1 mission.
“Perhaps they were just eager enough to do the science they agreed on to show that this isn’t just a tourism mission,” Ms Forczyk said. “This was such a big criticism of private individuals going into space that perhaps through the sheer amount of research they were trying to alter the narrative.”
But astronaut planning is a challenging science. Even accounting for the several days it can take even experienced astronauts to adjust to weightlessness, which can lead to nausea and other symptoms of space adaptation syndrome, Ms Forczyk said Nasa spends a significant amount of time managing astronaut time down to the minute.
“Astronauts are heavily scheduled on the space station,” she says. “Maybe that’s another lesson we’ve learned. That means if they expect such a heavy workload from their private individuals going into space, they might need to adopt that kind of down-to-the-minute planning that NASA has extensive experience with.”
But the demanding experience of planning astronauts isn’t just reserved for Nasa. Space Adventures, another space tourism company, has been letting astronauts fly on Russian Soyuz spacecraft since 2001. So “shouldn’t it just be doable, it’s been doable for 20 years?” said Ms. Forczyk. “I truly believe that what they learned from this mission, Axiom will improve on next time.”
The company will need to do this, she added, because “unless Axiom fixes this problem, there will be reluctance to continue allowing Axiom to have these types of missions on the Axiom space station.”
Axiom Space is more than just another space tourism company. Nasa approved the company’s plans to build a segment to complement the space station, and Axiom hopes its paying space tourism customers will help the company add additional segments to the point where they can eventually detach from the ISS to become a free – flying commercial space station .