Turkey's milestone space mission: First astronaut heads to the ISS
Turkey's space ambitions reached a new height with the launch of the Axiom-3 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Alper Gezeravcı, a 44-year-old Turkish Air Force veteran, leads the mission, marking Turkey's first foray into manned spaceflight. Over the next two weeks, the crew will conduct more than 30 scientific experiments in microgravity, focusing on the effects of space travel on human health.
This mission not only advances Turkey's space exploration efforts but also reflects the increasing global interest in leveraging Earth's orbit for national prestige and technological advancement. Joining Gezeravcı on this mission are Italian Air Force Colonel Walter Villadei, 49, as the pilot; Swedish aviator Marcus Wandt, 43, as a mission specialist; and López-Alegría, 65, a retired NASA astronaut with dual Spanish and American citizenship. López-Alegría, an Axiom executive, also commanded the company's inaugural ISS mission in April 2022.
SpaceX, the rocket and satellite company founded by Elon Musk, facilitates the mission with its launch vehicles and crew capsules, extending its expertise to mission control from its Los Angeles headquarters. NASA contributes by providing the Cape Canaveral launch site and overseeing astronaut safety upon rendezvous with the ISS.
"THE FUTURE IS IN THE SKIES"
During the 36-hour journey to the ISS, SpaceX live-streamed the crew's initial reactions. Gezeravcı's first words in space were a tribute to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey: "At this historic moment, as the first Turk steps into space, I am reminded of Atatürk's visionary words: 'The future is in the skies.'"
Gezeravcı reflected on his experience with palpable excitement: "I've dreamed of this for a long time. It's an incredible feeling. Everything from the start has been excellent." He also acknowledged those who have contributed to Turkey's progress and paid homage to the sacrifices made for this mission.
Axiom Space has touted this expedition as "the first all-European commercial astronaut mission" to the ISS. Upon arrival, the crew will join the station's current residents: two NASA astronauts, one Japanese, one Danish astronaut, and three Russian cosmonauts.
This mission follows the Axiom-2 launch in May 2023, which sent two Americans and two Saudis to orbit, including Rayyanah Barnawi, the first Arab woman in space.
Axiom Space, established eight years ago and led by NASA's former ISS program manager, is developing its commercial space station. This initiative aims to replace the 25-year-old ISS, with NASA expecting to retire it around 2030.