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CAPE CANAVERAL – A crew of four, including Turkey's first astronaut, arrived at the International Space Station early Saturday for a two-week stay in the latest mission of its kind arranged entirely at commercial expense by Texas-based startup Axiom Space. .
The meeting came about 37 hours after the launch of the Axiom quartet on Thursday evening aboard a rocket ship from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Both the Crew Dragon ship and the Falcon 9 rocket that carried it to orbit were supplied, launched and operated by Elon Musk's SpaceX under contract to Axiom, and were Axiom's first two missions to the space station since 2022.
Once astronauts arrive at the space station, they fall under the responsibility of NASA's mission control operation in Houston.
A live NASA webcast showed that the Crew Dragon spacecraft independently docked with the International Space Station at 5:42 a.m. EDT (1042 GMT) while the two spacecraft were flying about 250 miles (400 kilometers) over the South Pacific Ocean. .
Both were flying side by side around the world at a supersonic speed of about 17,500 mph (28,200 km/h) when they joined together in orbit.
With the pairing achieved, it was expected to take about two hours for the sealed passage between the space station and the crew capsule to be pressurized and checked for leaks before the hatches were opened, allowing the newly arrived astronauts to move aboard the orbiting laboratory.
Plans call for the Axiom-3 crew to spend approximately 14 days in microgravity conducting more than 30 scientific experiments, many focused on the effects of spaceflight on human health and disease.
The multinational team was led by Michael Lopez Alegría, 65, a Spanish-born retired NASA astronaut and CEO of Axiom, who made his sixth trip to the space station. He also commanded the first Axiom mission – the first fully private flight to the space station – in April 2022.
The Ax-3's second-in-command is Italian Air Force Colonel Walter Velade, 49. Completing the team is Swedish pilot Markus Wandt, 43, representing the European Space Agency, and Alper Gezeravci, 44, a Turkish Air Force veteran and fighter pilot, who is making his country's first manned spaceflight.
They will be welcomed aboard the space station by the seven members of the station's current regular crew – two Americans from NASA, an astronaut each from Japan and Denmark and three Russian astronauts.
Since its founding eight years ago, Houston-based Axiom has built a company that caters to foreign governments and wealthy private sponsors aiming to send their own astronauts into orbit. The company charges at least $55 million per seat for its services in organizing, training and preparing customers for spaceflight.
Axiom is also one of a few companies building its own commercial space station aimed at eventually replacing the International Space Station, which NASA expects to retire around 2030.
The space station was launched into orbit in 1998 and has been continuously manned since 2000 under a US-Russian-led partnership that includes Canada, Japan and 11 ESA countries.