NASA Releases Space Traveler Guidelines

In 2001 Dennis Tito sought to fly on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station. The hard part was getting to the launch pad. The trip was easy by comparison. Mark Shuttleworth is next in line to fly as a self-financed space tourist. Shuttleworth's launch preparations are silky smooth by comparison to Tito's. Part of the answer lies in a document finally released today by NASA.

Russia has the right to chose its own Soyuz crews - and it chose Tito (he did buy his seat though). At the time, only so called "professional" or "career" astronauts had been assigned to fly to the ISS. Tito appeared on the scene before an established system was in place to deal with unique cases such as his. As the impending launch date approached, NASA revealed a document that it and the other partners who comprise the ISS program had been working on. While it was still in draft form, it was agreed that it would be used as "advice" to guide the process of dealing with Mr. Tito's flight. Eventually, NASA signed off on Mr. Tito's flight as a one time deal.

This document, titled "Principles Regarding Processes and Criteria for Selection, Assignment, Training and Certification of ISS (Expedition and Visiting) Crewmembers" was released to the public today.

According to Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Flight Mike Hawes, this document had been under development by a team lead by Astronaut Charles Precourt at NASA JSC for several years. According to Hawes, the eventual need for such a set of criteria actually became apparent 2 years ago - well before Mr. Tito's name appeared - and this document was begun so as to address these issues. Alas, Mr. Tito appeared before the negotiations between all of the participating countries (so-called "multilateral" discussions) could be completed and the document "baselined".

The document, as written, is precise in some ways - yet open - even vague - in others. As for specificity, with regard to an individual astronaut's behavior, the document points to another document, the ISS Crew Code of Conduct (CCOC), a December 2000 document that is part of US federal regulations. The CCOC spells out do's and don'ts for astronauts. Much of what is captured in this CCOC is straightforward.

However, this specificity may lead to some problems down the road. One of the provisions in the CCOC document prohibits individuals from engaging in activity for private gain:

"ISS crewmembers shall refrain from any use of the position of ISS crewmember that is motivated, or has the appearance of being motivated, by private gain, including financial gain, for himself or herself or other persons or entities. Performance of ISS duties shall not be considered to be motivated by private gain. Furthermore, no ISS crewmember shall use the position of ISS crewmember in any way to coerce, or give the appearance of coercing, another person to provide any financial benefit to himself or herself or other persons or entities."

This would, on its face, seem to undermine commercial visitors to the ISS - and the motivation for some possible commercial sponsorships. When asked about this, Mike Hawes said that these regulations embodied in the CCOC were developed based on the criteria adhered to by existing career (professional) Shuttle Astronauts and did not overtly consider commercial space travelers. Hawes said that this issue has not yet been discussed with NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe but this was clearly an area that had to be addressed in light of the current (and expected) presence of commercial visitors on the ISS.

Some things are not specified by this document because they are coordinated elsewhere. For example, the medical requirements for individuals visiting the ISS are coordinated by another panel. This document simply refers to those criteria instead of establishing any and required that the participating nation certify that individual meet those criteria.

As far as training goes, this document once again defers to other sources. Training for all individuals riding a Soyuz to the ISS requires training in Russia with a one week ISS familiarization course at NASA JSC. Space tourist Mark Shuttleworth is undergoing that training this week. Shuttle crews that visit the ISS get most of their training in the US with a set course of instruction on Russian and Soyuz systems in Russia. Additional training is provided to individuals on a case by case basis with the training specifically tailored to an individual's responsibilities. Again, each country is required to certify that individuals sponsored by them meet these established criteria.

Lastly, there are things that leave a lot of latitude to those who need to make the decisions. Both Hawes and Precourt repeatedly emphasized that this document created a framework in resonance with existing modes of cooperation among the ISS partner nations. This existing relationship has already addressed issues such as liability, training, and so forth. This document direct the participating nations to certify that the individuals they put forth as travelers (astronauts or paying customers) and to certify that the process used is one that is already agreed to by the partners.

There are some mechanisms whereby one (or more) partners could object to an individual's nomination for flight by another partner. While there won't be a formal review board established for every individual case, according to Precourt, there are ways for a partner to object and, if need be, raise their objections up the chain of responsibility.

There are some rather unspecified means whereby someone could be precluded from flying - means which are not at all explained by this document e.g.

The following list defines some of the factors that would be considered as a basis for disqualification: (a) delinquency or misconduct in prior employment/military service; (b) criminal, dishonest, infamous, or notoriously disgraceful conduct; (c) intentional false statement or fraud in examination or appointment; (d) habitual use of intoxicating beverages to excess; (e) abuse of narcotics, drugs, or other controlled substances;(f) membership or sponsorship in organizations which adversely affect the confidence of the public in the integrity of, or reflecting unfavorably in a public forum on, any ISS Partner, Partner State or Cooperating Agency."

When asked what "notoriously disgraceful" means, neither Hawes or Precourt could say. Instead, Precourt said that the selection process followed by all participating nations should be one whereby a person nominated by one country would not prove to be an embarrassment to another participating nation. However, should one or more countries disagree with an individual flying to the ISS, there are established procedures for dealing with a "non consensus" situation whereby this could be addressed said Precourt. As such, the process seems to leave it to a country to object and then deal with that objection on a specific basis.

When Dennis Tito arrived for training at NASA JSC last year he was not allowed to enter for a variety of reasons. One had to do with the issue of liability. NASA now says that this issue has an established path for resolving. The same goes for training and a number of other sore points that kept NASA from enthusiastically accepting Tito's place aboard a Soyuz taxi flight.

Even though this document was being released officially for the first time today, it has been in ad hoc effect since last year. As such, Mark Shuttleworth's flight to the ISS had a pre-established and more or less agreed-to backdrop against which to plan things out and resolve issues. Sources asking not to be identified have said that the issues raised by Shuttleworth's trip are quite minor by comparison and have been dealt with without all of the hysteria that seemed to circle around everything Dennis Tito did or said. The fact that all has gone rather smoothly for Shuttleworth and NASA this past week bears evidence to this.

As the number of unique "non-career" astronauts line up to fly to the ISS, these criteria will no doubt need to be revisited. When asked if NASA has been in discussions with individuals who want to fly after Shuttleworth, Mike Hawes characterized the discussions as being minor and noted that there is not "a long line" of people waiting to fly on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

At least not yet.


Related Links

  • The First African In Space, Shuttleworth official website

  • 31 January 2002: Principles Regarding Processes and Criteria for Selection, Assignment, Training and Certification of ISS (Expedition and Visiting) Crewmembers, NASA

  • 20 December 2000: 14 CFR Part 1214 Code of Conduct for the International Space Station Crew, NASA

  • 28 January 2002: Next International Space Station Soyuz Taxi Crew Available to media February 1 at NASA JSC, NASA JSC

    Background Information

  • 10 December 2000: Earth's First Self-Financed Astronaut, (Interview with Dennis Tito) SpaceRef

  • 16 April 2001: Letter From Lt. Gen Stafford to OSF AA Rothenberg regarding safety issues associated with Dennis Tito's ISS visit

  • 30 March 2001: Letter from Gen. Stafford, Chairman, Stafford Task Force, and Academician Anfimov, Chairman, Utkin Advisory Expert Council Regarding The Flying of Dennis Tito (and Visitors) to the ISS

  • 24 April 2001: Decision Paper on Russian Aviation and Space Agency (Rosaviakosmos) request for MCB approval of exemption to fly Mr. Dennis Tito aboard the April 2001 Soyuz 2 taxi flight to the International Space Station (ISS), Multilateral Coordination Board (MCB) Meeting of April 24, 2001

  • 24 April 2001: NSS Statement on Launch of Dennis Tito to Space Station

  • 24 April 2001: Rep. Sensenbrenner's Statement on Mr. Dennis Tito's Trip to the Space Station

  • 24 April 2001: Photo Report: Final Inspection of Soyuz TM-32 Spacecraft at Baikonur, RSC Energia

  • 24 April 2001: Dennis Tito's Space Vacation is GO, SpaceRef

  • 24 April 2001: Photo Report: Shroud Roll-On Over Soyuz TM-32 Spacecraft, RSC Energia

  • 18 April 2001: RSC Energia Photo Report: Soyuz TM-32 Crew Spacesuit Fit Check in the Assembly and Testing Facility

  • 19 March 2001: Dennis Tito's Flight to Space Station Hits Major Snag - with NASA, SpaceRef

  • 28 September 2000: Sending "Average" People into Space is Suddenly VERY Popular, SpaceRef


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