CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — Turkey’s first astronaut and three other crew members representing Europe were launched from Florida on Thursday on a voyage to the International Space Station in the latest commercially arranged mission from Texas startup Axiom Space.
A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying the Axiom quartet lifted off about an hour before sunset from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, beginning a planned 36-hour flight to the orbiting laboratory.
The launch was shown live on an Axiom webcast.
The autonomously operated Crew Dragon was expected to reach the space station early Saturday morning and dock with the orbiting outpost 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 company charges its customers at least $55 million for each astronaut seat.
Originally scheduled for Wednesday, the launch was postponed for 24 hours to allow more time for final inspections and data analysis, including for an issue related to the parachute system used to slow the capsule’s return descent before splashdown, Axiom and SpaceX said.
Plans for the Axiom-3 mission call for the crew to spend roughly 14 days aboard the station conducting more than 30 scientific experiments, most of them focused on the effects of spaceflight on human health and disease.
More symbolically, the mission reflects the growing number of nations venturing to Earth’s orbit as a way of enhancing global prestige, military prowess and satellite-based communications.
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.
He was being joined by Italian Air Force Colonel Walter Villadei, 49, Ax-3’s designated pilot; Swedish aviator Marcus Wandt, 43, another mission specialist; and retired NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, 65, a dual citizen of Spain and the United States, acting as mission commander. Lopez-Alegria, an Axiom executive, also commanded the company’s first mission to the space station in April 2022.
Axiom billed the flight as “the first all-European commercial astronaut mission” to the space station.
In May 2023, Axiom-2 launched a team of two Americans and two Saudis, including Rayyanah Barnawi, a biomedical scientist who became the first Arab woman ever sent to orbit, on an eight-day mission to the space station.
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.
NASA, besides furnishing the launch site at Cape Canaveral, assumes responsibility for the astronauts once they rendezvous 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.
Launched to orbit in 1998, the International Space Station has been continuously occupied since 2000 under a U.S.-Russian-led partnership that includes Canada, Japan and 11 countries that belong to the European Space Agency.