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PARIS — NASA and the other partners on the International Space Station have approved the crew of the third private astronaut mission by Axiom Space, scheduled to launch in early 2024.
NASA and Axiom Space announced Sept. 12 that they had finalized the crew for the Ax-3 mission launching no earlier than January 2024. The mission will be commanded by Michael López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut who also led the Ax-1 mission to the ISS in April 2022.
The three customers are Alper Gezeravcı, Walter Villadei and Marcus Wandt. Villadei, who will be pilot of Ax-3, is an Italian Air Force colonel who trained as a backup for the Ax-2 mission and flew on Virgin Galactic’s first commercial suborbital flight, Galactic 01, in June. Gezeravcı, a mission specialist, is a Turkish Air Force officer and Wandt, a mission specialist and former air force officer from Sweden, was selected as a reserve member of ESA’s astronaut corps last November.
All three customers had been linked to the upcoming Axiom mission. The Turkish government announced in April it selected Gezeravcı as its first astronaut and had previously signed an agreement with Axiom. Villadei had trained with Axiom for Ax-2 with the expectation of going to space on a future mission. ESA, working with Sweden’s space agency, announced an agreement with Axiom in April for a private astronaut flight, and later named Wandt as the astronaut who would go.
“This crew is shifting the paradigm of how governments and space agencies access and reap the benefits of microgravity,” López-Alegría said in a company statement. “The Ax-3 mission will be transformational as it fosters partnerships outside the construct of the ISS and positions European nations as pioneers of the emerging commercial space industry.”
As with the first two Axiom missions, Ax-3 will launch on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and will spend up to 14 days on the ISS. Axiom is also planning a fourth mission, Ax-4, later in 2024.
The missions are enabled by NASA’s low Earth orbit commercialization policy, which allows for up to two private astronaut missions a year to the ISS as precursors to both commercial modules Axiom plans to add to the station as well as development of commercial space stations that will ultimately succeed the ISS.
“These commercial efforts continue to expand opportunity and access to microgravity research and discovery,” Angela Hart, manager of NASA’s commercial low Earth orbit development program, said in a NASA statement. “Each of these missions is a next step in building our shared future in low Earth orbit.”
Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science... More by Jeff Foust
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