SpaceX Launches Ax-3 Mission with First Turkish Astronaut Onboard

Ax-3 Mission

In a historic moment, SpaceX has successfully launched the Ax-3 mission, marking the inclusion of Turkey’s first astronaut on board the International Space Station (ISS). Organized by Axiom Space, this mission is noteworthy as it features the first all-European crew.

Liftoff and Crew Composition

The launch took place from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on January 18 at 4:49 p.m. EST. Initially scheduled for January 17, the launch was delayed by a day for additional prelaunch checks. The Crew Dragon capsule named “Freedom” soared into the sky atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The four-person crew, known as Ax-3, is headed by Michael López-Alegría, Axiom Space’s chief astronaut and a former NASA astronaut. Joining him are mission pilot Walter Villadei, an Italian Air Force colonel; Alper Gezeravcı, Turkey’s first astronaut; and Marcus Wandt, a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut reserve member. Gezeravcı and Wandt will serve as mission specialists.

Ax-3 Mission Highlights

López-Alegría, a dual citizen of Spain and the U.S., makes Ax-3 the first all-European commercial astronaut mission to the ISS. Following liftoff, the Falcon 9’s first stage successfully returned to Earth, landing at SpaceX’s Landing Zone-1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Freedom separated from the Falcon 9’s second stage approximately 12 minutes after liftoff, initiating its 36-hour orbital journey to rendezvous with the ISS. The capsule is set to dock with the Harmony module on the ISS early Saturday morning.

Crew Activities on the ISS

The Ax-3 astronauts will spend about two weeks as integrated residents of the orbital laboratory, conducting microgravity research and science experiments. These investigations will cover areas such as physics, human health, and outer space medicine. Axiom aims to leverage the findings to enhance astronaut training and develop future low-Earth-orbit economy perspectives.

Future Plans for Axiom Space

Axiom Space, the organizing company, has ambitious plans to operate its private space station. The construction, starting as part of the ISS, is slated to launch its first module in 2026, attaching to the Harmony module’s forward-facing port. Additional components, including a thermal regulation and power module, will be added incrementally, culminating in the Axiom station’s independent on-orbit operation.

Capsule Return and Conclusion

After approximately two weeks on the ISS, the Ax-3 crew is scheduled to return to Earth. The Freedom capsule, having previously flown in SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission for NASA in 2022 and Ax-2 last year, is expected to splash down off the coast of Florida. This mission marks SpaceX’s 12th astronaut flight overall and contributes to Axiom Space’s long-term goals in shaping the future of commercial space exploration.

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