After almost two years of negotiations, NASA and its International Space Station partners released a new set of ground rules for the selection of non-professional visitors to the orbiting outpost. The rules emphasize what kind of conduct is unbecoming enough to bar visiting researchers or millionaire tourists from making round trips to the complex.
To determine ?general suitability? for a trip to the station, background checks will be carried out ?in order to predict probable future actions that may adversely impact the ISS program,? the new rules state. Factors that would be considered ?as a basis for disqualification? include: Delinquency or misconduct in prior employment or military service; criminal, dishonest, infamous or notoriously disgraceful conduct; intentional false statements or fraud during an examination; habitual use of intoxicating beverages, narcotics, or other controlled substances; and membership in organizations which reflect unfavorably on any ISS partner or agency. Beyond general suitability, the candidate must also meet ?agreed-upon medical criteria? as established by the station partners, including ?the medical aspects of behavioral aspects.? All this makes you kind of wonder what?s gone on up there in the past.
?I think what we want to do is simply be sensitive to each of the other partners,? NASA chief astronaut Charles Precourt says. ?When we nominate someone, we don?t embarrass our partners by having someone who would be so controversial that it would be an insult to the other partners to fly them because of some behavioral background that was considered distasteful. This language is really pretty much (like) the kinds of things that you see in a government background investigation for a security position, or a position requiring a security clearance.?
Candidates who would otherwise be disqualified could get a second chance based upon the ?critical/sensitive nature of the ISS crewmember position, the nature and seriousness of any misconduct and the circumstances surrounding the misconduct.? The length of time that has elapsed since any misconduct, the age of the candidate at the time of the discretion and the ?contributing social and environmental conditions? would also be taken into consideration.
?I think what we're saying here is that there is actually a very small set of things that are disqualifying for flight,? says Michael Hawes, NASA?s deputy associate administrator for the station program. ?We view this as actually being very open.?
Development of the criteria began to accelerate when cash-strapped Russia came forward with a proposal to launch U.S. millionaire Dennis Tito to the ISS. NASA originally opposed the plan, saying it was inappropriate to send a non-professional to the station during a time when critical construction work was underway.
Tito, however, already had agreed to pay the Russian Aviation and Space Agency an estimated $18 million to $20 million for an eight-day round-trip to the station, so NASA backed down, and the former NASA engineer turned California financier joined two Russian cosmonauts on a Soyuz mission last April. Now South African Internet businessman Mark Shuttleworth has been cleared for a Russian flight to the station in April, 2002.
The new station crewmember standards leave open the possibility that space tourists one day may fly to the space station on NASA shuttles, as well as on Russian missions. NASA is faced with a projected $4.8 billion overrun and has had to shelve, at least for now, its plans to build a U.S. habitation module and an American crew rescue vehicle for the outpost.
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