Space Tourists Overworked, Disrupted Space Station Routine

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Using the most diplomatic language possible, the three billionaires who paid $55 million each for a trip to the International Space Station told a news conference they were overworked on their epic adventure. “With the value of hindsight, we were way too aggressive on our schedule, in particular the first couple days,” said Larry Connor, who along with Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe embarked on the mission with Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut who led the expedition for Axiom Space, which organized the trip.

It turns out that $55 million doesn’t buy a window seat from which to watch the world go by. The amateur astronauts had a long list of science and engineering experiments to do and many of them took longer than expected. In fact, the visitors needed help from the resident ISS crew to get some tasks done and that forced some overtime by the hosts. “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 astronaut who sits on NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory. She said there were no safety issues but it was clear that the well-heeled neophytes were a bigger distraction than anyone wanted. “There were some real-time dynamics related to the flight crew timelines with the addition of these four Axiom personnel, who did have their own flight objectives.”

Axiom Space, which organized the trip, is planning changes for future trips. “It’s incumbent on us to reduce our burden on the crew,” said Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini. “Over time, we’ll reduce what the crew has to do.” The space tourists were supposed to stay for eight days but bad weather on Earth prevented their return. They got seven more days to get their work done and finally look out the window. “It was a blessing to have the extra time,” López-Alegría said. “I think we were so focused on research and outreach in the first 8 or 10 days on orbit that we needed the extra time to complete the experience by having time to look out the window, to make contact with friends and family, to just enjoy the sensation.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. I can’t say I feel sorry for them feeling overworked. Sorry for the professional astronauts who had to babysit them, but not for the rich tourists.

  2. oh, poor babies. Maybe their mamas can kiss them on the forehead and make things all better.
    Or mebbe the go-mint can fine them an extra billion for wasting everyone’s time.

  3. “Using the most diplomatic language possible…”
    That’s for sure. All the statements quoted are so vague as to be almost meaningless. Must be 3 more billionaires on deck. BTW, deposits are non-refundable. And, no, you can’t fire the Staff.

  4. Life is rough then you die.

    If the flight had not been lengthened maybe they would have sued the former astronaut who botched estimation of workload.

  5. Having interns always makes for a big increase in workload for the staff.

    I think this demonstrates that space tourism, if it is to happen, should not make use of government facilities and personnel. All the tourists probably wanted was the launch experience and to look out the window once in orbit, not to become grad students doing some tenured professor’s lab work. Honor any existing financial commitments, then discontinue the program.

  6. Thank you. This is the most reasonable response so far. Tourism is going to happen, there’s money to be made. Can’t really blame anybody for unanticipated difficulties just yet, it takes experience and practice to get things right, no?

    • I understand your sentiment, doctor, but suggest you use a different metaphor. I know pygmies and know them to be resourceful wonderful human beings. Pygmies are not the kind of people to whom you’re trying to compare these space tourists.

      • You are ABSOLUTLY correct.

        I had considered the possibility that my analogy might be interpreted this way but I used it anyway because I was referring only to physical size and no other attribute.

  7. What a joke. They had experiments to do. Limited training no doubt. So is anyone going to seriously use any of the data. Just take their money and give them a window to look out of. Then send them home.

  8. It would have been both nice and informative if there were details regarding what issues were encountered, other than not having a window seat. How about a little factual reporting.

  9. The envy and malice displayed here, on an aviation site no less, is surprising. The aviation industry did not spring fully formed into existence — neither will the space industry. Grab a bag of popcorn, and enjoy the birth of an entirely new industry, and celebrate everyone who is a part of it. These early steps of the commercial space industry will end with our children traveling as easily into space as we travel into the air today.

  10. Zero envy or malice on my part.

    I can be unimpressed with a person’s character or behavior without being envious or malicious.

    Such emotions are not in my repertoire. I am blessed beyond comprehension, more so even in the world to come than this particular fallen one, but even here I want for nothing.

  11. Sadly, this is nothing new. The Russians started bringing well-heeled space tourists up to its old Mir space station while it was in orbit. They needed the money to help support the station’s operations. On one trip it didn’t go well when one of the “cosmonauts” freaked out and had to be physically restrained until he could be stuffed back into a Soyuz capsule and returned to earth. I guess even billionaire oligarchs get claustrophobia.

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