Turkey's first astronaut arrives at International Space Station

Alper Gezeravci is serving as mission specialist on Axiom 3 mission and will spend about two weeks on the orbiting laboratory

Turkey's first astronaut Alper Gezeravci has reached the International Space Station. Photo: Axiom Space
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Turkey's first astronaut arrived at the International Space Station on Saturday on board a SpaceX rocket, marking a milestone in the country’s fledgling space programme.

Alper Gezeravci, a 44-year-old fighter pilot with the Turkish Air Force, and three other crew members, will spend about two weeks on the ISS as part of a private mission called Axiom 3.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried the crew to space from the Kennedy Space Centre, with a Dragon capsule that arrived at the orbiting laboratory after 37 hours after the launch.

The Crew Dragon autonomously docked with the ISS at 5.42am EDT (2.42pm Dubai time), as the two space vehicles were about 400km over the South Pacific, a live Nasa webcast showed.

Officials expected it would take about two hours for the sealed passageway between the space station and the crew capsule to be pressurised and checked for leaks before hatches could be opened.

Then the astronauts would then move on board the orbiting laboratory to begin their mission.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulated his country on the achievement.

“We are stepping into the second century of our Republic, with our first manned space mission. May God open our path and our fortune,” he posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Turkey signed a deal with Axiom Space, a Houston-based company that arranges space trips, in 2022. Ankara intended to have a Turkish national in orbit to coincide with the country's centenary celebrations.

The company also helped arrange space missions for the UAE and Saudi Arabia, including Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi's six-month stay aboard the ISS.

Who is Turkey's first astronaut?

Mr Gezeravci, who is serving 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 of flying experience on several different aircraft, including the F-16 fighter.

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

Mr Gezeravci said he has always been fascinated with flying and dreamt of one day travelling to space.

“It is going to be an amazing feeling being able to fly in space without any wings,” he said.

“In the middle of the night, I saw the news of our president announcing the news of launching the first Turkish [person] to space.

“That is important. It's like opening a curtain that had been blocking the dream of our children.”

What will they do in space?

Mr Gezeravci and his crew will be conducting more than 30 science experiments on the ISS, 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 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: January 20, 2024, 12:35 PM