Visiting the space station? You’ll need a former NASA astronaut as an escort.

It’s not for amateurs. At least not in the International Space Station. If you want to visit the orbiting laboratory, NASA now says you must be escorted by a former NASA astronaut, someone who can guide you through the dizzying, disorienting wonders of weightlessness and make sure your presence at the station isn’t a burden.

Visiting the space station You’ll need a former NASA astronaut as an escort.

The move comes as a number of private citizens are flying to space, changing the definition of what an astronaut is and who gets to be one. Private companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX have sent crews comprised entirely of private citizens to space. (Blue Origin is owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post.) And NASA has sought to capitalize on the growth of the commercial space sector, announcing in 2019 that it would finally allow private citizens to visit, something Russia had been doing for years. The new rules come a few months after the first private astronaut mission to the ISS from the United States in a flight arranged by Axiom Space, a Houston-based company that is working to build a space station of its own. Three paying customers flew in a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut who now is an executive at the company. Axiom is planning another mission, which will also have a former NASA veteran onboard, Peggy Whitson.

The company had been planning on future missions to fly crews without a guide. But in a notice this week, first reported by SpaceNews, the space agency said that “a former NASA astronaut provides experienced guidance for the private astronauts during preflight preparation through mission execution,” as well as acting as a liaison between the private crew and the professionals onboard the station. Having a former NASA astronaut along “reduces risk to ISS operations,” the space agency said. In an interview, Lopez-Alegria said he agrees with the changes. “It’s a good idea,” he said, adding that it was “a fundamentally sound policy.” But he said he hopes that over time NASA will allow civilians to fly unaccompanied, as training improves and more people visit the station. “I do think that there is a possibility that should be considered that at some point we can wean ourselves from this after we have enough experience,” he said. “It’s no secret that the more seats we sell, the more revenue we get. So it shouldn’t surprise anybody that at some point we’d like to transition to a model where we don’t have a previously flown astronaut.”

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