A SpaceX rocket took off on Thursday, January 18, towards the International Space Station (ISS) to take four passengers, including the first Turk to go into space. The launch took place as planned at 4:49 p.m. local time (10:49 p.m. PST) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission, named Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3), is the third organized by the American company Axiom Space.

The passengers, who have been training for months, must spend around two weeks on the ISS, where they are due to arrive on Saturday. They then plan to conduct a series of scientific experiments there.

After allowing wealthy clients to realize their space dreams, Axiom Space now also takes individuals sponsored by national agencies. This mission is thus indicative of the growing role of the private sector in supporting the space ambitions of countries that do not have their own human spaceflight program. The Ax-2 mission had already allowed two Saudis supported by their government to stay on the ISS.

“The symbol of an increasingly powerful and assertive Türkiye”

Among the crew members this time: Alper Gezeravci, a fighter pilot who became the first Turk to cross the final frontier. “We see this mission as a symbol of an increasingly powerful and assertive Turkey,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said this week, wishing Colonel Gezeravci “good luck.”

Also on board, the Swede Marcus Wandt is supported by the European Space Agency (ESA). His role as a “project astronaut” at ESA allows him to participate in short-term missions, via a fixed-term contract, unlike full-time astronauts, the European agency said. “I want to thank ESA for being bold and visionary, and leading the way, together with Sweden and Axiom Space, to strengthen Europe’s presence in space,” Marcus Wandt wrote on X.

The crew is completed by the Italian Walter Villadei, a member of his country’s air force. The man once flew aboard a Virgin Galactic ship, but the space trip only lasted a few minutes. Finally, the Hispanic-American Michael Lopez-Alegria, former NASA astronaut, will be the mission commander, employed by Axiom Space to support the three clients. They will join seven people already aboard the flying laboratory: two American astronauts, a Dane, a Japanese, and three Russian cosmonauts.

The details of the various contracts, including the prices paid to Axiom Space for each seat, are not made public. These private missions are carried out in partnership with NASA, which bills Axiom Space for use of the station. For the company, these missions are a first step before building its own space station.

A program encouraged by NASA, which plans to retire the ISS around 2030, and then send its astronauts to private stations.