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Successful launch: The Falcon 9 takes off from the spaceport in Cape Canaveral on January 18th

Photo: Chandan Khanna / AFP

Four Europeans have launched the third private mission to the International Space Station.

The Spanish-born former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, the Italian Walter Villadei, the Swede Marcus Wandt and the Turk Alper Gezeravci lifted off on Thursday from the Cape Canaveral spaceport in the US state of Florida on board a private Falcon 9 rocket space company SpaceX.

They are scheduled to reach the ISS on Saturday.

Gezeravci is the first Turkish citizen to fly into space.

The four private astronauts are expected to stay on board the ISS for around two weeks and carry out numerous experiments there.

The trip was organized by the private space company Axiom Space in collaboration with NASA and SpaceX – the company owned by tech billionaire Elon Musk.

According to media reports, the passengers pay around 50 million euros each for the trip.

Because Gezeravci is the first Turk in space, the mission is generating great interest in his home country.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who appeared with the air force pilot in his election campaign before his re-election last year, celebrated the mission as a "new symbol of a growing, stronger and more self-confident Turkey."

Gezeravci is aware of the high expectations.

In his own words, he is ready to “take the dreams of the Turkish people into the depths of space.”

In an interview with the Anadolu news agency, he emphasized that the flight to the ISS was “not an end in itself” for his country.

Rather, it serves to “achieve the goals of our space research.”

The Swede Wandt, who was sent to the ISS by the European Space Agency (Esa), will complete 20 experiments during his two-week stay in space and also maintain experiment hardware on board the International Space Station, as the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne announced .

It is therefore "the first time that an ESA astronaut has been booked on a commercial mission by the US launch service provider Axiom."

Commercial space station planned

The company Axiom Space, founded in Houston, Texas, in 2016 by former NASA manager Michael Suffredini and Iranian-American businessman Kam Ghaffarian, is also planning its own commercial space station in the future.

Axiom has already successfully sent two private missions into space: In April 2022, López-Alegría flew to the ISS together with the US entrepreneur Larry Connor, the Israeli entrepreneur Eytan Stibbe and the Canadian investor Mark Pathy.

In May 2023, a man and a woman from Saudi Arabia flew for the first time - astronaut Rayyanah Barnawi and her colleague Ali Alqarni - as well as former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and ex-racing driver John Shoffner.

There had been individual space tourists on the ISS several times before, but the Axiom missions were the first completely private crews.

The launch of the rocket was originally planned for Wednesday, but was postponed by a day at short notice.

The SpaceX company had explained that the “additional time” until launch was necessary to complete tests and data analysis.