Turkey’s inaugural astronaut, accompanied by three other crew members representing Europe, embarked on a journey to the International Space Station on Thursday, marking the latest mission facilitated by the Texas-based startup, Axiom Space.
The Axiom quartet was launched from Florida’s NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, which ascended atop a Falcon 9 rocket just an hour before sunset.
The planned 36-hour flight will culminate in the capsule’s arrival at the orbiting laboratory.
The launch event was broadcast live on a joint webcast by Axiom Space and SpaceX.
The Crew Dragon, operating autonomously, is anticipated to reach the International Space Station (ISS) early on Saturday morning, where it will dock with the outpost situated approximately 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.
The ISS is currently occupied by seven regular crew members.
Live footage captured the two-stage, 25-story-tall launch vehicle piercing through partly cloudy skies over Florida’s Atlantic coast, leaving behind a fiery, yellowish tail of exhaust.
Inside the crew compartment, cameras transmitted footage of the four men securely strapped into their pressurized cabin, seated calmly in white-and-black flight suits with helmets, as the rocket ascended into space.
Just nine minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9’s upper stage successfully positioned the crew capsule in its preliminary orbit.
In response to congratulations from mission control, Flight Commander Michael López-Alegría radioed back from the Crew Dragon, stating, “As I was saying, it’s a team sport. Thank you, guys.”
A few minutes earlier, the rocket’s reusable lower stage, having detached from the rest of the spacecraft, autonomously returned to Earth and safely landed on a designated zone near the launch site, prompting audible cheers from the control room.
This mission marked the third such flight organized by Houston-based Axiom in the past two years, highlighting the company’s growing business of launching astronauts sponsored by foreign governments and private enterprises into Earth’s orbit.
Axiom Space charges its customers a minimum of $55 million for each astronaut seat.
Axiom-3 Mission: Turkey’s Microgravity Science and International Collaboration in Space
The Axiom-3 mission is set to span approximately 14 days in microgravity aboard the International Space Station (ISS), focusing on conducting over 30 scientific experiments.
Many of these experiments are geared toward understanding the effects of spaceflight on human health and disease.
Beyond the scientific pursuits, the mission symbolizes the increasing participation of nations in Earth orbit, contributing to global prestige, military capabilities, and satellite-based communications.
Turkey, long aspiring for EU membership, marked its debut in human spaceflight by sending 44-year-old Alper Gezeravcı, a Turkish Air Force veteran, as an Ax-3 mission specialist.
Gezeravcı was joined by Italian Air Force Colonel Walter Villadei, 49, designated as Ax-3’s pilot, Swedish aviator Marcus Wandt, 43, another mission specialist, and 65-year-old López-Alegría, a retired NASA astronaut and dual citizen of Spain and the United States.
López-Alegría’s Dual Role and Axiom’s Growing Influence in Commercial Space Missions
López-Alegría, also an Axiom executive, previously commanded the company’s inaugural mission to the ISS in April 2022.
Axiom promoted the flight as “the first all-European commercial astronaut mission” to the space station.
Pending a smooth journey, the crew is expected to join the seven members of the station’s regular crew, including representatives from NASA, Japan, Denmark, and Russia, on Saturday.
In May 2023, Axiom-2 launched a guest team of two Americans and two Saudis, featuring Rayyanah Barnawi, a biomedical scientist who became the first Arab woman sent to orbit on an eight-day mission to the ISS.
SpaceX, led by billionaire Elon Musk, provides Axiom’s launch vehicles and crew capsules under contract, similar to its role in NASA missions to the ISS.
Additionally, SpaceX manages mission control for its rocket launches from its headquarters near Los Angeles. NASA, in addition to supplying the launch site at Cape Canaveral, assumes responsibility for the astronauts upon their rendezvous with the space station.
Established eight years ago and led by NASA’s former ISS program manager, Axiom is among a select group of companies working on building a commercial space station.
This initiative is intended to eventually replace the 25-year-old ISS, which NASA anticipates retiring around 2030.