First full-stride commercial crew aboard space station, having ‘a lot of fun’

The first NASA-sanctioned all-private crew to visit the International Space Station had little trouble adjusting to zero gravity, but an unbroken schedule of proprietary research and public outreach left few “windows” to do so. of tourism, their commander said on Wednesday.

Since arriving at the station last Saturday, “it’s been quick,” retired astronaut Michael López-Alegría, crew chief and mentor, said in a space-to-ground interview with CBS News. “I think that’s probably the biggest surprise, how incredibly fast time flies.”

“We have a very tight schedule to follow all the activities we have planned and it’s a sprint, it’s a total sprint,” said López-Alegría. “But the guys are doing great, everyone loves microgravity. I mean, you can imagine, it’s a lot of fun. And I think the only surprise is how hard we work.”

Axiom-1 Mission Commander Michael López-Alegría, a retired astronaut and now vice president of Houston-based Axiom Space, describes the first all-commercial visit to the International Space Station in an interview with CBS News.

Axiom space

López-Alegría, Ohio businessman Larry Connor, Canadian entrepreneur Mark Pathy and Israeli Eytan Stibbe, former F-16 fighter pilot and successful investor, lifted off in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket last Friday, becoming the first fully private crew to visit the International Space Station.

Houston-based Axiom Space paid an undisclosed amount for the ride to orbit and access to the space station. Connor, Pathy and Stibbe paid for their seats while López-Alegría, now vice president of Axiom, flies on behalf of the company.

With NASA’s blessing, Axiom plans to launch several modules that will initially be attached to the space station to serve as a commercial research center. Once solar power and cooling systems are added, the Axiom modules will be detached to fly on their own before retirement from the ISS at the end of the decade.

The current Ax-1 mission is the first in a series of Axiom flights planned to help pave the way for commercial operations in low Earth orbit, which López-Alegría says is critical.

“We don’t want to give up low Earth orbit,” he said. “When I say us, I mean humanity, and specifically NASA and other international partners. The ISS is a wonderful platform, but it’s a machine and it has a lifespan that will expire at some point. And when that happens, we want to be ready with the next generation of orbital platform to take over.”

The Ax-1 sales team took the time on Wednesday to answer questions from school children at Space Center Houston, near the Johnson Space Center. From left to right: Larry Connor, Mission Commander Michael López-Alegría, Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe.

Axiom space

A commercial space station, he said, offers clear advantages over government-run outposts, which operate under restrictions that do not apply to the private sector.

“They have certain restrictions on what they can and cannot do here,” López-Alegría said. “When you’re a commercial provider, you can do a lot, you can open the aperture and expand the envelope a bit and do other things.”

“You’ve probably heard conversations about entertainment, about branded product placement, about endorsements, about other types of not just small-scale manufacturing or demonstration of manufacturing capability, but actually large-scale manufacturing scale, where you could actually sell these products,” he said.

But, he said, “it’s not the only game in town.”

“If someone wanted to come here and stare out the window all day, we would entertain them. I think it’s almost a shame to ruin the experience in this way, without giving something back, to research, educational outreach here, but that’s definitely an option.”

The Ax-1 crew chose to conduct a full range of research, including 25 biomedical experiments and technology development demonstrations amid a full range of public outreach downlinks. Given the busy schedule, it helps that no one in the crew had any problems adapting to weightlessness.

The Axe-1 Crew Dragon approaches the International Space Station April 9 with the half moon in the distance.


“A lot of times a lot of crew members suffer a bit from what they call space adaptation syndrome, which involves being a bit nauseous,” López-Alegría said. “And that’s hardly happened to anyone, which is really unusual for a crew of four.”

“Overall they are doing very well,” he added. “I mean eating and drinking is obviously a bit different, as is going to the bathroom, naturally. But you know, it’s just a process of adaptation, and so far I think things are definitely responding to their expectations in terms of enjoyment. and our expectations in terms of performance. So it was great.”

He said the crew is free to roam the US segment of the space station on their own, including tours of the cupola compartment where seven large windows provide panoramic views of the planet 260 miles below.

“I guess we would all say we don’t have enough playing time,” López-Alegría said. “By the way, this is the first time I’ve looked at the dome and I’m as amazed as everyone else.”

Regarding lessons learned, he said planners need to give more time to commercial crew members, even those not affected by space adaptation syndrome, to get their “space legs.” ” and learn to move efficiently in weightlessness.

“I think we underestimated how difficult the adaptation would be and how long it would take,” López-Alegría said. “You know, we have this phenomenon that astronauts call ‘space brain’, when you go up here things take about 33-50% more than usual. And that’s even more true for people who have never been exposed to this environment before, so that would be a lesson I would take away for sure and I think that message is already being heard.

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