Being an astronaut from the 2020s will be completely different than it was for any astronaut who came before, a group of space pilots told the virtual International Astronautical Congress on Wednesday (October 14th).
The environment of space flight is changing rapidly due to several different factors. The International Space Station (ISS) is working hard to commercialize it and will soon welcome more and more crews of commercial vehicle space agencies as it attracts several private astronauts.
Meanwhile, NASA and its international partners are preparing for the next phase of human spaceflight after the ISS, which they hope will include a moon landing in 2024 and possible astronaut trips to Mars. Also in the next few years, private companies like Virgin Galactic hope to send astronauts who pay for suborbital flights in an attempt to make room for more people than professional astronauts.
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All of this is a very different environment from the time the first long-term crew was housed on the ISS in October 2000, which was 20 years ago this month. The demands of astronauts are changing and evolving rapidly as science advances, even between missions, said former NASA astronaut Cady Coleman.
“It was very exciting to see [NASA astronaut] The launch of Kate Rubins with her Russian crew eight hours ago, “Coleman said, referring to the launch of Expedition 64 earlier Wednesday (October 14th) from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, to the International Space Station.
Rubins is best known for being the first astronaut to sequence DNA in space, and it will push science even further after its last trip in 2016. Coleman said during Rubins’ last mission, Rubins grew cells on heart muscle and you can see cells beating under a microscope. In this mission, Rubins and a team of scientists on Earth will grow small pieces of tissue with strain gauges to see what happens to the heart muscle when it is in space, Coleman added.
“It makes me think about what really happened in 20 years on the space station, in science,” said Coleman, who flew two space shuttle missions and the long-term Expedition 27. In one of his shuttle missions. , STS-73, she said it was “preparation for how [were] will do scientific experiments on this space station. How would the scientist see their data? What is practical? What is not practical? What can astronauts do? What can scientists do? I am very proud of this work. “
Not only has science changed; it is also a set of skills of astronauts. The first generation of astronauts to test orbital missions and moon landings in the 1960s were largely taken by military test pilots, while astronauts began participating in Apollo, Skylab, and space shuttle missions in the 1970s and 1980s. years. Since then, we have most often seen scientists and military-trained astronauts in space, although requirements have continued to change over the decades.
European Space Agency two-time space pilot Pedro Duque, who visited the ISS in 1998 and 2003, said that during his busy years as an astronaut, it was hard to imagine being anywhere else. But in 2018, he became the Spanish government’s minister of science, innovation and universities, and said his astronaut skills still help him in that position every day.
“I believe that when you work as an astronaut, you learn, and that’s good for a lot of things in life,” he said. “You learn to work with very intelligent people and let them do their job while you do yours. You understand how you can be in a position where people listen to you, but then you learn how to use it wisely – or not. And [you] try to set an example and a conviction and this is something I have tried to use all my life, in all the positions I have been in. “
NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold flew a space shuttle and the long-term mission Expedition 55 in 2009 and 2018, respectively. It was an era when science, technology, engineering and math training (STEM) became particularly important as astronauts learned more general “expeditionary behavior” for long-term missions, he said, instead of focusing on a few small specific skills.
A newer shift in astronaut training, he added, is preparing for the proliferation of new spacecraft – including SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Boeing’s Starliner and NASA’s Orion spacecraft. This will add to Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, which is currently sending astronauts into space. “There is potential for four different vehicles that you need to know how to fly,” Arnold said, “and it will be interesting to see what the training team does with the next class of astronauts to come.”
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The skill set will change even more when private astronauts board the ISS or work on other spacecraft, said Michael Lopez-Allegria, who flew three space shuttle missions and the long-running Expedition 14 in the 1990s and 2000s. .
Lopez-Allegria had previously flown with space flight participant Anouche Ansari and said he was impressed by her set of blogging skills, a new idea when they went into Union space together in 2006. More new ideas will emerge as different types of people reach space, he added.
“We are entering a new realm where you don’t have to be a professional astronaut to fly in space; this is the era of democratizing that access,” Lopez-Allegria said. “It’s very difficult at the moment because the seats are small. And as a result they are quite expensive. But I’m sure those prices will fall, just like [for aviation] in the 1920s and 1930s. Commercial aviation was just something that the very, very rich could get. “
As Lopez-Allegria retires from NASA, he returns to the space station in another format. He joined Axiom Space as Director of Business Development in 2017, working with a company that is building a private module for the space station, as he dreams of creating independent space stations in the near future. Lopez-Allegria will return to the ISS with the Axiom Crew Dragon mission in 2021, announced the partner of Space.com, which gathered SPACE.
However, when asked who else would take part in the mission during the panel discussion, Lopez-Allegria said he “could not really confirm or deny what had happened.” But he said Axiom plans to run a private mission in the fourth quarter of 2021, provided the company passes approvals with its contracts. “So far we are not ready to discuss who the other crew members will be. But I can tell you that this will be the first public-private trade mission,” he added.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.