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European astronauts are traveling to the International Space Station on a chartered flight.
Science & Health

European astronauts are traveling to the International Space Station on a chartered flight.

On Thursday, Turkey’s inaugural astronaut and three additional crew members from Europe embarked on a journey to the International Space Station. This mission was arranged by Texas-based startup Axiom Space as part of their commercial ventures.

A group of four astronauts from Axiom was launched into orbit on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule an hour before sunset from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. The planned mission to the orbiting laboratory is estimated to take 36 hours.

The event was broadcasted live on an Axiom webcast.

The Crew Dragon, which is self-operated, was anticipated to arrive at the space station on Saturday morning and connect with the orbiting outpost located 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

The mission was the third such flight organized by Houston-based Axiom over the past two years as the company builds on its business of putting astronauts sponsored by foreign governments and private enterprise into Earth’s orbit.

The minimum cost for an astronaut seat is $55 million for each customer charged by the company.

The initial launch, set for Wednesday, was delayed by 24 hours in order to conduct additional inspections and analyze data. Axiom and SpaceX reported that this was necessary due to an issue with the parachute system used to slow the capsule’s descent before it lands in the water.

The Axiom-3 mission has plans for the crew to stay on the station for about 14 days, during which they will carry out over 30 scientific experiments. The majority of these experiments will be centered on studying the impact of space travel on human health and illnesses.

In a more symbolic sense, the purpose represents the increasing amount of countries exploring the Earth’s orbit as a means of improving worldwide status, military strength, and satellite-dependent communication.

Turkey, a longtime applicant for EU membership, was poised to enter the exclusive-but-expanding club of space station guest countries by sending Alper Gezeravcı, 44, a Turkish air force veteran, on his nation’s debut human spaceflight as an Ax-3 mission specialist.

Italian Air Force Colonel Walter Villadei, 49, Ax-3’s designated pilot, was accompanied by Swedish aviator Marcus Wandt, 43, another mission specialist, and retired NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, 65, who holds dual citizenship in Spain and the United States. Lopez-Alegria, who is also an executive at Axiom, acted as the mission commander for the company’s inaugural mission to the space station in April 2022.

The space station was billed by Axiom as the inaugural commercial astronaut voyage entirely staffed by Europeans.

A team consisting of two Americans and two Saudis, including biomedical scientist Rayyanah Barnawi, made history in May 2023 when they were launched by Axiom-2 on an eight-day mission to the space station. Barnawi became the first Arab woman to ever be sent to orbit.

SpaceX, the privately funded rocket and satellite company of billionaire Elon Musk, provides Axiom’s launch vehicles and crew capsules under contract, as it has for NASA missions to the space station. SpaceX also runs mission control for its rocket launches from the company’s headquarters near Los Angeles.

In addition to providing the launch location at Cape Canaveral, NASA is responsible for the astronauts once they meet up with the space station.

Axiom, an eight-year-old venture headed by NASA’s former space station program manager, is one of a handful of companies building a commercial space station that’s intended to eventually replace the international facility, which NASA expects to retire around 2030.

The International Space Station was sent into orbit in 1998 and has remained continually inhabited since 2000, thanks to a collaboration between the US and Russia, as well as involvement from Canada, Japan, and 11 European countries that are part of the European Space Agency.