Private Astronaut Returning From Space Station Describes His Interactions With Russian Cosmonauts

“We had one day where the toilet was down for a few hours,” Larry Connor, Axiom Space’s AX-1 mission pilot, told CNN. “The Russians were very cordial, very accommodating. We operate as one team there and they said, ‘Hey, come on and use ours.

In addition to sharing a toilet, the AX-1 crew also shared two family dinners with everyone on board the space station during their 15-day stay – three Russian cosmonauts, three NASA astronauts and a German astronaut with the European Space Agency.

Connor describes the cosmonauts as “gracious hosts”, inviting the AX-1 crew to the Russian segment of the space station for “the equivalent of boxes of juice and a bit of dessert”. But Connor says that at no time was the war in Ukraine ever brought up.

“My personal view is that I totally support Ukraine, the Ukrainian people and their right to exist as a sovereign nation. Period,” Connor said. “But as a private astronaut, part of an international community where it’s vital to our safety and well-being on the International Space Station, we must, in my view, respect that, honor that and From a practical safety standpoint, put aside those differences, however serious, and be a cohesive unit.”

“We were not on a tourist trip”

Connor spent more than 1,000 hours training for the AX-1 research mission, which included complex microgravity medical experiments for the Mayo and Cleveland Clinic.

“It was basically my full-time job for eight months before the mission,” Connor said. “We weren’t on a tourist trip. We were on a serious mission with hopefully important research and education outcomes.”

But despite the extensive training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., Connor said conducting scientific experiments while floating in zero gravity was a “humiliating experience.”

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“If it hadn’t been for NASA’s Crew 3 astronauts and their phenomenal help, we would never – emphasize the word never – have been able to accomplish all of our goals,” Connor said. . “We underestimated the time spent on some projects. In the beginning, we had a project that we thought was two and a half hours, take five hours.”

Current to perform more than two dozen experiments, Connor says the AX-1 crew had a “very aggressive schedule.”

“When we came through the hatch, we went into a real sprint – 14 hours a day, basically 7am to 8 or 9pm for the first five or six days, and then it backed off a bit to 12 hours a day,” Connor says. “It was rigorous and demanding.”

“An extraordinary mission”

The AX-1 mission was organized by Houston-based startup Axiom Space, which is working to build the world’s first commercial space station. But Elon Musk’s SpaceX provided crew transportation to and from the International Space Station.

Connor, an Ohio-based real estate mogul who paid an undisclosed sum to secure a spot on the AX-1 crew, was launched from Kennedy Space Center atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut. -became employee of Axiom who commanded the mission; and two other paying customers: Israeli businessman Eytan Stibbe; Canadian investor Mark Pathy.
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“The launch was great, but the re-entry was even better. You go downhill and you’re in freefall and you can tell how fast you’re going, but it’s very controlled,” Connor said. “There’s a certain G-load. You have a spinning sensation. It’s really exhilarating.”

Connor says he “is still reacclimating to Earth” after his SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on Monday.

“It feels like the day after a big league football game, in terms of body aches,” Connor says.

When Connor asked his commanding officer, a veteran of five spaceflights, about body aches, Connor says Michael López-Alegría replied, “It’s gravity, mate. Get used to it.”

“I’m happy to be back on Earth,” Connor said. “But it was an extraordinary mission.”

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