SpaceX, Axiom Space successfully launch first crewed mission of 2024 from Florida

Axiom Space successfully launched the world’s first ever all-European crew of astronauts to the International Space Station. 

The four astronauts lifted off at 4:49 p.m. EST on Thursday from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The historic launch marked the first crewed mission for 2024 and Axiom’s third rotation to the ISS.

"We have three countries: Sweden, Italy, and Turkey that are participating in this," said Kam Ghaffarian, who’s the executive chair for Axiom Space. 

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket propelled crew members Commander Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Walter Villadei, and Mission Specialists Marcus Wandt and Alper Gezeravci into orbit. The crew will spend about two weeks conducting microgravity research, educational outreach, and commercial activities aboard the space station.

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Axiom Mission 3 crew -Alper Gezeravci (2nd L) of Turkiye, Michael Lopez-Alegria (R) of US-Spain, Walter Villadei (2nd R) of Italy, and Marcus Wandt (L) of Sweden- greet the crowd before blasting off for the International Space Station on a SpaceX Falcon 9 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, United States on January 18, 2024. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Gezeravcı is also the first person from Turkey to ever go into space in the country’s history.   

"Tomorrow, there’s going to be millions of Turkish boys and girls who wake up, and the world’s bigger than they imagined before," said Matt Ondler, president of Axiom Space. 

On their 14-day stay on the International Space Station, they have more than 30 experiments to work on. One project is looking at telehealth in space. The crew will use a health app and wear trackers because doctors want to find a better way to keep astronauts healthy during long missions.  

To do the projects, Ondler said the astronauts will be "doing lots of probing of themselves and drawing blood of themselves, as well." 

New food will also be on the menu during the mission. The Italian food company Barilla is testing ready-made pasta to improve what astronauts can eat in space.   

The four men will also have a furry friend to keep them company.  You may remember Gigi! The adorable Build-a-Bear teddy bear is heading back to space. Her first mission was during the Axiom 2 mission last May. 


Ax-3 mission: 'GiGi' the teddy bear to return to space for the first crewed mission of 2024

A furry crew member is set to make history, again, when she heads to space alongside the Axiom Mission 3 (AX-3) astronauts this week.

This time, Gigi will be in the capsule with the astronauts wearing Axiom's next-generation space suit. She’s on board to inspire young people to get involved in science and space.   

"We hope that we have some small part in the next generation of students that are interested in science," Ondler concluded.

The astronauts have about a 36-hour journey to space and are set to dock at the ISS on Saturday morning.