Axiom Space has selected the crew for its third privately funded mission to the International Space Station.
Retired NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría will command Axiom-3. He has previously commanded Axiom-1. His NASA experience includes three space shuttle missions and a role as commander for the International Space Station’s Expedition 14. He joined Axiom Space after retiring from NASA in 2012.
“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,” López-Alegría said in Axiom Space’s crew announcement.
The crew also includes Italian Air Force Colonel Walter Villadei, who previously flew on Virgin Galactic’s first commercial launch in June 2023, as seen in the below video. He also trained on the Russian Soyuz, though he never had a chance to fly on the Russian spacecraft.
European Space Agency reserve astronaut Marcus Wandt will also fly on Axiom-3. ESA’s reserve astronauts are ones who passed the selection process but have not yet been selected for a flight opportunity. During the Axiom-3 mission, Wandt will also participate in ESA’s “Munnin” mission, which takes its name from a raven belonging to the Norse god Odin.
Alper Gezeravcı will become Turkiye’s first citizen in space. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had pledged that Gezeravcı would fly by the end of 2023 as part of an event announcing his selection as an astronaut candidate.
Axiom-3 is expected to fly no earlier than November 2023. It will use a SpaceX Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon as part of Axiom Space’s multi-launch contract with SpaceX.
This will be Axiom Space’s third flight to the International Space Station as part of preparations for the inflatable modules that will be added to the space station. These modules are expected to be “spun off” into one of the first privately owned space stations before the International Space Station is expected to be retired. Space on the Axiom space station will be available to rent, an option for NASA as it refocuses its efforts on the Artemis Program and the Lunar Gateway. NASA says this will help reduce the gap between the retirement of the International Space Station and launching new space stations into Earth orbit. NASA’s previous space station, Skylab, had fallen back into the atmosphere and burned up over Australia before the space agency could get the Space Shuttle operational. (Australians reported finding pieces of Skylab that had survived the trip through the atmosphere.)
Axiom Space works closely with NASA on this series of flights, include the coordination of supplies for the privately funded visits to the space station and an option to bring samples back to Earth on the Crew Dragon for various biomedical experiments.
As someone who already has experience on the space station, López-Alegría might also help with experiments on the space station when he isn’t busy with AX-3 related duties. Current biomedical experiments include a study of cardiac tissue in microgravity that could improve treatment of cardiac ailments on Earth.
Axiom Space also expects to work more closely with government space agencies for the foreseeable future, including transporting astronauts to the space station for ISS partners. It had previously provided rides to paying customers, though NASA required that any private mission to the space station be commanded by an astronaut like Peggy Whitson or Michael López-Alegría, who both previously worked for NASA before joining Axiom Space.