Peggy Whitson, most experienced U.S. astronaut, touts need for commercial spaceflight and private space stations

America’s most experienced astronaut says this week’s full commercial tour of the International Space Station is an important step on the path to space tourism, private sector orbital research and the development of commercially operated space stations.

In a ground-from-space interview with CBS News, the retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, A veteran of three NASA flights that recorded an American record of 665 days in orbit and 10 spacewalks to his credit, the early days of commercial spaceflight coincided with the beginning of commercial aviation – and the high prices when only the wealthy He could only fly.

Retired astronaut Peggy Whitson, commander of the second full commercial flight to the International Space Station, talks to CBS News about her mission progress and her role in the development of a private space station.

Axiom Space

“In the ’30s, ’40s, as commercial aviation was developing from something that started out as (an) all-government (initiative), it was a long process before it was for us. Be something that happens every day.” .

“But it’s incredibly important if we want to increase access to space for more people that we start somewhere. And that’s the first step.”

The short, subflights provided by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, which launched a pilot test flight on Wednesday, “give some access to space, and I think it’s going to give our commercial platforms in low Earth orbit.” It is important for growth in me and beyond.”

As for the multimillion-dollar cost of a ticket to fly into orbit as a commercial astronaut or space tourist, Whitson said, “it’s probably going to take a little longer” for prices to drop to lower levels. That non-millionaires can afford.

“But the potential options for access to space for governments around the world, and people, individuals that have never had access before, whether they’re sending scientific probes or whether they’re sending astronauts, are really opening up.” said.

And she envisions a future when “you could be a housekeeping worker at a station of the future or a worker looking after broken hardware.”

“You might just be someone who’s paid to go there as part of your job,” he said. “And that’s how I think ultimately, everything that’s going to get more and more access to space.”

Axiom Space plans to add modules to the International Space Station over the next several years that will detach to fly on their own as a commercial outpost before the current lab is retired at the end of the decade.

Axiom Space

With a doctorate in biochemistry, Whitson joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1996 and completed three long-duration flights to the International Space Station between 2002 and 2017, once on the space shuttle and twice aboard the Russian Soyuz ferry. Launching and landing on the plane.

She logged a total of 665 days and 22 hours in space during those three flights – the most time in orbit for any American and the longest for any female astronaut. She also participated in 10 spacewalks totaling more than 60 hours, making her the fifth in the world and #1 among female astronauts.

After retiring from NASA, Whitson joined Houston-based Axiom Space as director of human spaceflight. Axiom launched its first “private astronaut mission” – Ax-1 – in April 2022, a flight commanded by retired astronaut Michele López-Alegria.

Whitson The explosion happened last Sunday. As commander of the Ax-2 mission, retired fiber optics entrepreneur and adventurer John Shoffner joined two Saudi astronauts — Ali Al-Qarni and Raynah Barnawi — on their first flight aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.

“They are doing great!” Whitson said of his rookie crewmates. “I’m so proud of them, they’ve worked really hard in their training program and they’re doing really well to complete their science and participate in lots of outreach and STEM events. Really happy, Very happy with the results.”

Axiom Space is using private astronaut missions to acquire the expertise needed to build and operate a stand-alone commercial space station that will be used by government and private sector astronauts and researchers after the International Space Station retires at the end of the decade. can be used after .

In the near term, the missions also provide a way for serious, technologically capable private citizens and governments, who lack access to space, to visit the ISS for research and public outreach — goals that NASA has encouraged. Who is

Ax-2 crew (left to right): Saudi astronauts Ali Al-Qarni and Rayana Barnawi, mission commander Peggy Whitson and co-pilot John Shoffner.

Axiom Space

“Our mission control is working full-time, three shifts in Houston, to change our plans and our schedules based on activities that have or haven’t been completed, working with NASA teams on all of these Working with the station staff to put things together. A very complex task,” Whitson said.

“Just learning the ropes and developing new techniques that we think will be more useful for use on the Axiom station are really important as preliminary steps. When we have a module here, we’ll be able to do that with mission control.” will work as we’re doing. Building that. And so I think that’s a very important step for us.”

The Ax-2 crew is working on 20 long-term research projects in various fields. But Whitson said she’s making sure rookies take the time to enjoy the experience, telling them to “spend at least 90 minutes once and go around the world and the whole thing.” See.”

The arrival of the Ax-2 astronauts increased the space station’s crew from seven to 11. Asked if it’s crowded at the lab, Whitson said “sometimes there’s a traffic jam because people are working in front of the science rack and then people are trying. Around and back and up. And going down.”

“We haven’t had a lot of bumps yet, but there have been some,” he said. “So there’s definitely a lot of traffic and the station staff have been very welcoming to us.”

Whitson and his Ax-2 crewmates plan to close out their eight-day station visit on Tuesday, returning to Earth with a splash off the Florida coast.

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