The crew for Axiom Space's third private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, scheduled to fly from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida no sooner than January 2024, has been cleared by the agency and its international partners.
Michael López-Alegra, the lead astronaut for Axiom Space and a former NASA astronaut, will pilot the personal mission. Col. Walter Villadei of the Italian Air Force will pilot the aircraft. Alper Gezeravci of Turkey and Marcus Wandt, a project astronaut for the European Space Agency, are the two mission specialists.
As part of NASA's attempts to create a healthy low Earth orbit ecosystem and market and enable more countries, more people, and more possibilities in space than ever before, private astronaut flights to the space station aid in paving the way for commercial space stations.
At the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Angela Hart, manager of the Commercial Low Earth Orbit Development Program, said, "I am delighted to see NASA and industry's sustained focus toward permitting commercial astronaut missions. "These business initiatives continue to increase access and opportunities for microgravity research and discovery. Each of these missions represents an advancement in the development of our common future in low Earth orbit.
The crew of Axiom Mission 3, or Ax-3, will go to the space station after taking off inside a Dragon spacecraft on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The private astronauts intend to spend up to 14 days onboard the orbiting laboratory once they have docked, carrying out a mission that combines scientific, educational, and commercial endeavors. The mission will launch the first Turkish astronaut into orbit and mark the debut of an ESA-sponsored astronaut on a commercial mission.
López-Alegra commented, "It is a privilege to command another private astronaut mission with Axiom Space and to lead a dynamic crew of professional operators representing many nations across one region of the world." "This crew is changing the way governments and space agencies access and take advantage of microgravity... Working with this group and everyone who will support our mission on the ground, in space, and all throughout the world is something I'm looking forward to.
An agreement between NASA and Axiom Space was inked to launch the fourth commercial astronaut mission no early than August 2024. Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1), which was launched in April 2022 and was similarly led by López-Alegra, featured four private astronauts who worked on science and outreach projects for 17 days in space. Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2), the second private astronaut mission, launched in May 2023 for a nine-day mission onboard the orbiting laboratory where it carried out novel scientific and educational initiatives.
A continuous American human presence in low Earth orbit onboard the space station has been supported by NASA for almost 23 years. The agency wants to establish a robust, commercial market in low Earth orbit, where NASA is just one of many clients. This plan will offer the government's essential services at a lesser cost, allowing the organization to concentrate on its Artemis trips to the Moon in order to prepare for Mars while continuing to use low Earth orbit as a training and validation area for those deep space missions.