Ax-3 space mission begins journey to International Space Station

January 19, 2024, 3:22 pm

ISTANBUL – The Ax-3 space mission began its journey to the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday, blasting off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center with its four-person crew, including Türkiye's first spacefarer, Alper Gezeravci.

It launched from SpaceX's facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 4.49 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (ET) (2149GMT) on a Falcon 9 rocket of private space exploration company SpaceX.

Around 150 seconds after the launch, the main engine cut off and stage separation was realized.

After some 7.5 minutes, the Falcon 9 rocket turned back to Earth and landed.

Nearly nine minutes after the launch, the second engine cut off.

The Dragon capsule, carrying the crew, deployed after some 12 minutes from the launch.

The crew is expected to dock at the ISS at approximately 5.15 a.m. ET (1015GMT) on Saturday.

The Ax-3 mission is being led by Michael Lopez-Alegria, representing the US and Spain, while the crew also includes Walter Villadei as the pilot, from the Italian Air Force, and Marcus Wandt of Sweden, representing the European Space Agency.

Ax-3 astronauts checked in from orbit as they shared their messages.

Gezeravci started off by reciting the words of Türkiye’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

“The future is in the skies,” he said.

“Starting from the end of the countdown all the way to here -- a great ride. It has been a really great feeling, as I have been dreaming of for so long…So, it's been really great so far,” he said.

“I'm really so privileged and honored to be a part of this great team. Thank you so much everybody who has worked tremendously up until this moment for us to make it to this moment,” he added.

Reflecting on the unique privilege of space travel, Lopez-Alegria said: "It's a real privilege to fly in space for anybody.”

“It's particularly nice for me as a second time on Dragon. The sensations were equally amazing -- acceleration, a little bit of vibration, just a sense of going fast. And wow, what a thrill!” he said.

Villadei also expressed his excitement.

“It's a privilege to be here, to fly over the Earth, waiting for getting into the ISS,” he said, emphasizing that it has been a very nice ride so far.

In turn, Wandt said: “I didn't really expect that sensation of acceleration and speed.”

“There was fantastic, pure joy. Getting up here and then feeling the microgravity is really weird. It's also awesome. Just floating around and repositioning yourself wherever you're doing,” he said.

Gezeravci and his three crewmates from Spain, Italy, and Sweden will conduct over 30 scientific experiments and demonstrations on the ISS as part of the Ax-3 mission.

Gezeravci is Türkiye's first-ever space traveller. He will conduct 13 scientific research experiments during his 14-day stay on the ISS. 

The liftoff was initially planned for Jan. 9 but was postponed twice to Jan. 17 and then to Jan. 18.

The 70-meter (229-foot) Falcon 9 rocket, with a diameter of 3.7 meters and weight of roughly 550 tons, has a payload capacity of 22,000 kilograms (over 24 tons) in low Earth orbit, 8,300 kg in geostationary transfer orbit, and 4,000 kg on Mars.

On the other hand, the 8.1-meter Dragon capsule, which can carry seven people or an equal amount of cargo in its pressurized area with air flow inside, is capable of carrying cargo in its unpressurized rear section. (Anadolu)