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ESA's Marcus Wandtembarks on historic Muninn Mission aboard ISS
The Fab 4 reading to board Dragon for the Ax-3 mission to ISS.
ESA's Marcus Wandtembarks on historic Muninn Mission aboard ISS
by Robert Schreiber
Berlin, Germany (SPX) Jan 22, 2024

In a significant milestone for European space exploration, ESA project astronaut Marcus Wandt, along with colleagues Michael Lopez-Alegria, Walter Villadei, and Alper Gezeravci, embarked on the Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3), docking with the International Space Station at 10:57 GMT on Saturday, January 20. This event marked the beginning of what is known as the Muninn mission, setting a precedent for future commercial human spaceflights.

The crew's journey commenced on January 18 at 21:49 GMT from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The spacecraft docked to the International Space Station after approximately 36 hours, traveling at a remarkable speed of 28,800 km/h. Marcus Wandt, serving as a mission specialist, experienced weightlessness around nine minutes post-liftoff, symbolized by a floating teddy bear inside the spacecraft, a whimsical yet effective zero-gravity indicator.

Marcus Wandt's role as a project astronaut at ESA is specifically tied to this unique flight opportunity, underlining the agency's commitment to exploring new frontiers in space travel and research. "I am immensely grateful and impressed by everyone who worked together to make this mission possible. I want to thank ESA for being bold and forward-thinking, and for paving the way to strengthen Europe's presence in space with the support of Sweden and Axiom Space," Wandt expressed on launch day.

Muninn, named after one of the ravens from Norse mythology, signifies the mission's intent to gather knowledge and deliver benefits to Earth. This mission is particularly historic as it marks the first instance of two Scandinavians in space simultaneously. ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen, currently the commander of the ISS, warmly welcomed Wandt aboard. Their collaboration in orbit is not just a meeting of two individuals but a symbol of the broader cooperation in space exploration.

During his stay in orbit, Wandt is dedicated to conducting approximately 20 experiments and participating in five educational programs. These activities range from understanding the effects of space habitat designs on astronaut stress levels to exploring cellular structure changes and gene expression in microgravity. These studies are crucial for enhancing our understanding of life in space and improving living conditions on Earth.

ESA's Director General Josef Aschbacher remarked on the broader implications of this mission, "Europe is redefining the pathway to show how fast-track missions in low Earth orbit can generate good science, outreach, and education for a better life on Earth." This mission serves as an initial step towards the commercialization of low Earth orbit, a vision that extends beyond the lifespan of the ISS.

Wandt's involvement in the Ax-3 mission represents a new direction in space travel, where private companies like Axiom Space play a vital role in facilitating access to the ISS. This approach allows for quicker and more efficient execution of science and technology programs in space. Wandt's selection for this mission, following his choice as one of the 17 new astronaut candidates from over 22,500 applicants, underscores the evolving nature of space missions in today's context.

As a part of his two-week mission, Wandt is expected to dedicate over 80 hours to science and experiments. These efforts highlight the mission's commitment not just to exploration but to practical applications that benefit life on Earth. Wandt reflects on this, stating, "Going to space and exploration in general is a very good tool to bring people together and drive progress. It is a great way to make cooperation happen and to spread knowledge."

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