SpaceX launches first astronaut from Turkey to ISS

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SpaceX launched Turkey’s first astronaut along with a Swede and Italian to the International Space Station on Thursday, the third private crew invited by NASA.

The Falcon rocket blasted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in late afternoon, carrying the three aviators and their escort, a retired NASA astronaut who now works for the company that arranged the flight.

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Their capsule should reach the space station on Saturday. They will spend two weeks performing experiments, chatting up school children and soaking in the views of Earth, before returning home.

It’s costing each of the three countries $55 million or more. That’s the rough per-person price of the mission organized by the Houston company Axiom Space.

Axiom’s first two flights to the space station included, in part, businessmen paying their own way to orbit. This is the first Axiom crew where each person has a military flying background and is representing his homeland.

Turkey’s Alper Gezeravci, a former fighter pilot and captain for Turkish Airlines, is the first person from his country to rocket to space.

Also flying: Sweden’s Marcus Wandt, a former fighter pilot and test pilot for Swedish Aeroplane Corp. who was chosen in 2022 as a reserve astronaut by the European Space Agency, and Italian Air Force Col. Walter Villadei, who flew to the edge of space last summer with Virgin Galactic.

Among the symbolic items they’re taking up: a Nobel Prize medal from Sweden, fusilli pasta from Italy and tokens of Turkey’s nomadic culture.

Their mission commander is Michael Lopez-Alegria, who launched four times as a NASA astronaut before joining Axiom Space and, in 2022, leading the company’s first mission to the space station.

Besides arranging trips to the space station, Axiom Space is building its own compartments to launch to the orbiting lab. Those chambers will be detached at the end of the station’s life and form the foundation of the company’s own outpost for hire.

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