Being an astronaut of the 2020s will be completely different than for any astronaut to come before, a panel of spaceflyers said at the virtual International Astronautical Congress Wednesday (October 14).
The spaceflight environment is changing rapidly due to many different factors. The International Space Station (ISS) is driving faster in trade and will soon be accepting more and more space space agencies with commercial crew crews while carrying some private astronauts.
Meanwhile, NASA and international partners are preparing for the next phase of human spaceflight missions after the ISS, which they hope will include lunar landings in 2024 and later astronaut trips to Mars. In the coming years as well, private companies like Virgin Galactic are hoping to send paying astronauts on suborbital flights, in a bid to open space to many people besides professional astronauts.
Related: How to commercialize the International Space Station to reach the moon and Mars
This is all a strange environment since the ISS placed its first long-term personnel in October 2000, which was 20 years ago this month. The demands of astronauts are rapidly changing and evolving as science progresses, even between missions, said former NASA astronaut Cady Coleman.
“It simply came to our notice then [NASA astronaut] Kate Rubins’ launch with her Russian crew eight hours ago, “Coleman said, referring to the launch of Expedition 64 on Wednesday (October 14) from Baikonur, Kazakhstan to the International Space Station.
Rubins is known for being the first astronaut to trace DNA in space, and he has been pushing science since his last voyage in 2016. Coleman said in Rubins’ last mission, Rubins grew heart muscle cells. , and you can see the cells that lurk under a microscope. In this mission, Rubins and a team of Earth scientists will enlarge small pieces of tissue with wheel measurements to see what happens to the heart muscle when it is in space, Coleman added.
“It makes me wonder what kind of thing really happened in 20 years at the space station, in science,” said Coleman, who flew two space shuttle missions and the long-term mission of Expedition 27. On one of his missions. on the shuttle, STS-73, he said it was “a preparation for how we are [were] going to do the science experiments at that space station. How can a scientist find their data? What is practical? What is impractical? What can astronauts do? What can scientists do? I am proud of that work. “
Not only has science changed; it is also the skill set of astronauts. The first generation of astronauts to test orbital and lunar missions in 1960 was largely derived from military test pilots, while scientist-astronauts began to participate in Apollo, Skylab and space missions. shuttle in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, most of us have seen scientists and trained military astronauts in space, although requirements have continued to change over the decades.
Two-time European Space Agency spaceflyer Pedro Duque, who visited the ISS in 1998 and 2003, said that during his busy years of training as an astronaut, he had difficulty imagining anywhere else. But in 2018, he became Minister of Science, Transformation and University for the Spanish government and said that his astronaut skills still help him every day in this position.
“I believe that by working as an astronaut you will learn, and that will be useful for many things in life,” he said. “You learn to work with talented 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 do it. use wisely – or not.And [you] try to lead by example, and in belief, and this is something I have tried to use throughout my life, in every position is. “
NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold flew a space shuttle mission and the long-term mission of Expedition 55 in 2009 and 2018, respectively. This was a time when training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) became increasingly important as astronauts learned more generic “expeditionary behavior” for long-term missions, he said, instead of focusing on certain small specific skills.
Newer astronaut training shifts, he added, are preparing for the launch of the new spacecraft – including SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Boeing’s Starliner and NASA’s Orion spacecraft. This will be added to the Russian 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 in the next class of astronauts to come.”
Related: More than 12,000 applied to become an astronaut for NASA’s ‘Artemis Generation’
The skillset will change even more when private astronauts board the ISS or work on other spacecraft, said Michael López-Alegría, who flew three space shuttle missions and the long-term Expedition 14 in the 1990s and 2000s.
López-Alegría previously flew with spaceflight participant Anousheh Ansari and said he admired his blogging skillet, a new idea when they went to space together in a Soyuz in 2006. More new ideas are come because of different types of people. space, he added.
“We are entering a new kingdom where you do not have to be a professional astronaut to fly in space; it is a time of democracy with access,” said López-Alegría. “It’s very difficult now, because there are very few seats. And as a result, they are a bit expensive to go. But I’m pretty confident prices are going down, like [for aviation] in the 1920s and 1930s. Commercial aviation is just something that can be reached by the very, enriched. “
While López-Alegría has retired from NASA, he will return to the space station in another format. He joined Axiom Space as director of business development in 2017, working for a company that is building a private module for the galaxy station while dreaming of creating independent galaxy stations in the near future. López-Alegría will return to the ISS on an Axiom Crew Dragon mission in 2021, according to Space.com collection partner.
When asked about who else would be on that mission during the panel discussion, though, López-Alegría said he “could not really confirm or deny what was happening.” But he said Axiom plans to fly a private mission in the fourth quarter of 2021, giving the company the passage of approvals on its contracts. “Until then, we are not ready to discuss who the other staff members are. But I can tell you this will be the first public-private commercial mission,” he added.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.