Turkey's first astronaut to embark on historic mission in January

Fighter pilot Alper Gezeravci is to spend about two weeks on the International Space Station

Alper Gezeravcı has 15 years' flying experience on a variety of aircraft. Photo: Axiom Space
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Turkey's first astronaut is poised to rocket into the record books as he prepares for a landmark space mission on January 9.

A SpaceX rocket will carry Alper Gezeravci, a 44-year-old fighter pilot with the Turkish Air Force, and three other crew to the International Space Station early in the new year.

He is due to spend about two weeks aboard the floating laboratory as part of the Axiom-3 (Ax-3) mission.

In 2022, Turkey signed a deal with Axiom Space, a Houston-based company that arranges space trips, with the aim of launching a citizen to coincide with its centenary celebrations.

Meet Turkey's first astronaut

Mr Gezeravci, who will serve as mission specialist on Ax-3, has a master's degree from the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

He has 15 years' flying experience on a number of different aircraft, including the F-16 fighter.

Apart from his military career, he also served as captain with Turkish Airlines for seven years.

“I am honoured and humbled to be the first ever Turkish astronaut to go to space,” Mr Gezeravci said during a media briefing last month.

“This mission is going to put a remarkable footprint on our prideful centenary. It will solidify the unity of Turkish people – a nation which was devastated by a recent natural disaster.”

Record-setter among international crew

Michael Lopez-Alegria is a Spanish-American who currently serves as the chief astronaut at Axiom Space, and will serve as commander on this mission.

He is an experienced astronaut having flown on the first private mission by Axiom Space and on five Nasa missions, and also served as commander on the ISS.

He holds the Nasa record for the most number of spacewalks, a total of 10, and the cumulative time spent spacewalking, which stands at 67 hours and 40 minutes.

Walter Villadei is a colonel in the Italian Air Force and will serve as the pilot on this mission.

In June, he flew on a Virgin Galactic space tourism flight, in which he carried out research work.

He has received cosmonaut training in Star City, Russia, as a Soyuz flight engineer and on the Russian segment systems of the ISS.

Marcus Wandt, a Swedish Air Force fight pilot, will serve as another mission specialist aboard Ax-3.

Furthering knowledge

The astronauts are set to carry out more than 30 science experiments on the orbiting laboratory assigned to them by researchers.

One of them includes the Cosmic Brain Organoids project, which investigates the effects of microgravity on neural stem cells.

It aims to identify novel cellular pathways so that doctors can develop new therapeutic interventions for neurodegenerative diseases.

The project will generate brain organoids, or small 3D aggregates of neural cells, using induced pluripotent stem cells derived from patients with Parkinson's Disease and primary progressive Multiple Sclerosis.

These organoids can be used to explore how the human nervous system develops or starts to degenerate.

Updated: December 18, 2023, 11:20 AM