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First European takes off on commercial flight to Space Station
ESA project astronaut Marcus Wandt.
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First European takes off on commercial flight to Space Station
by Staff Writers at ESA
Paris (ESA) Jan 18, 2024

ESA project astronaut Marcus Wandt from Sweden blasted into space tonight from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA, at 21:49 GMT (22:49 CET, 16:49 local time). A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3) crew of four astronauts from launch pad 39A.

Marcus is sharing the ride on the Dragon capsule to the International Space Station with Walter Villadei from Italy, Alper Gezeravci from Turkiye and Michael Lopez-Alegria, a dual US-Spanish citizen.

Marcus is the first of a new generation of European astronauts to fly on a commercial human spaceflight opportunity with Axiom Space. Marcus's mission is called Muninn.

Journey to space
Just two and half minutes into the flight, the Falcon 9 first stage separated to land back on Earth at 21:57 GMT (16:57 local time).

Marcus became weightless at around nine minutes after liftoff.

The rocket's second stage shut off its engines and a small teddy bear started to float free inside the spacecraft - a zero gravity indicator to show the Ax-3 crew that they had reached orbit.

The trip to the International Space Station takes around 36 hours. The four astronauts are circling Earth at 28 800 km/h, safely heading towards their new home in orbit.

The journey to catch up with the Space Station is relatively calm because the Dragon spacecraft is designed to fly in a fully automated mode, requiring little input from the crew. Marcus travels as a mission specialist on the Dragon spacecraft.

The capsule is set to dock with the Space Station on Saturday 20 January at 09:21 GMT (10:21 CET). The Ax-3 crew will not enter the orbiting laboratory until pressurization checks are complete.

The Muninn mission will officially begin as soon as Marcus goes through the hatch. ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen will welcome him as commander of the Space Station. This will be the first time two Scandinavians live and work together in space.

Live coverage of the docking, ingress and welcome messages will be shown on ESA WebTV channel 2 from 07:45 GMT/08:45 CET on 19 January.

Speedy boarding
Ax-3 is the first human commercial spaceflight mission for ESA. "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," says ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher.

"This short-duration flight is also a first step to prepare for the commercialisation of low Earth orbit in a future without the International Space Station. We are using private companies to help us run our science and technology programmes in space," he adds.

It is also the first time ESA flies a member of its astronaut reserve. Marcus was one of the 17 new astronaut candidates chosen from over 22 500 applicants from across ESA Member States in November 2022.

As a project astronaut, his job at ESA is linked to this specific flight opportunity on a fixed-term contract. Marcus's mission is supported by the Swedish National Space Agency.

"A mission like Muninn is a very efficient way of running more European science in space. I am very proud to pioneer this fast-track formula of using commercial companies to get access to the Space Station in record time," says Marcus.

During his two-week mission, he has a full schedule of science and experiments planned for over 80 hours. Marcus will devote much of his time to scientific activities and technology demonstrations that could shape the way we live and work on Earth. In total, he will conduct around 20 experiments.

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