First All-European Commercial Astronaut Crew Begins Research at Space Station

The mission arranged by Axiom Space will research cancer cures, remote-controlled robots, space horticulture, microgravity, and more.

A team of astronauts has arrived at the International Space Station to study microgravity, space botany, remote-controlled robots, and even methods to prevent cancer.

The multinational crew of Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3)—the first all-European commercial astronaut mission to the space station—docked with the orbital laboratory Saturday morning and will spend two weeks conducting more than 30 experiments for NASA and its countries’ respective space agencies.

Wednesday marked the crew’s fourth day aboard the space station and the seventh day of its mission. Astronauts are now well underway conducting microgravity research, educational outreach, and commercial activities.

“The four Ax-3 crewmembers had their hands full as they explored cancer research, space botany, and robotics for Earth and space benefits,” NASA said in a blog post Tuesday.

Ax-3, the third private astronaut mission to the space station chartered by Houston-based Axiom Space, lifted off Thursday from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying the four-person crew was launched using a powerful Falcon 9 rocket, which the Elon Musk-owned company also uses to deploy Starlink satellites and conduct Commercial Crew rotation missions for NASA.

Axiom Space chief astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegría, a Spanish-born former NASA astronaut, is commanding the mission. Lopez-Alegría has made six trips to the space station, including as the commander of the company’s Ax-1 mission in 2022.

The crew also includes mission specialist Alper Gezeravcı, who became the first Turkish astronaut in space. European Space Agency (ESA) project astronaut Marcus Wandt of Sweden and pilot Walter Villadei of Italy—who also flew a commercial spaceflight mission for Virgin Galactic last year—round out the crew.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft docked with the space station Saturday morning, making Ax-3 the third mission with a fully private crew to arrive at the orbital lab. The astronauts were greeted by the Expedition 70 crew—NASA’s 70th long-duration mission to the space station—which helped them adjust to life in zero gravity and get the lay of the land.

The Expedition 70 team, which comprises NASA, ESA, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronauts and Roscosmos cosmonauts, arrived in August on the Crew-7 Commercial Crew rotation mission for a monthslong stay.

Now the Ax-3 and Expedition 70 teams—a total of 11 crewmembers from more than half a dozen nations—are living and working together on a two-week dual mission.

“The crew has seamlessly adjusted to microgravity and are now busy conducting research and outreach engagements,” Axiom Space said in a blog post on Tuesday.

The more than 30 experiments being conducted will focus on low-Earth orbit, such as the effects of microgravity on the biochemistry of neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, for example). One study will monitor cancerous tumors in microgravity, aiming to identify early warning signs and prevent and predict cancer diseases.

Wandt carried out a pair of outlandish experiments. On Tuesday, he used a laptop computer to command a team of robots on Earth, testing the ability for explorations on other planets to be controlled remotely from spacecraft. Wandt also recorded his brain activity to study how isolated environments affect an astronaut’s cognitive performance and stress levels.

Beyond human-centric research, Ax-3 crew members also conducted a space botany experiment. Researchers studied how space-grown plants responded to the stress of microgravity. The aim is to uncover better agricultural practices both in space and on Earth, including the possibility of genetic modifications to adapt plants to weightlessness.

The Ax-3 crew is expected to depart the space station on February 3, splashing down off the coast of Florida. NASA in August tapped Axiom Space for a fourth private astronaut mission to the orbital lab, with a launch targeted for August at the earliest. The mission is similarly expected to fly on a SpaceX Crew Dragon and span two weeks.

NASA’s relationship with Axiom Space actually extends beyond trips to the space station. The company was selected to provide next-generation spacesuits for Artemis III, NASA’s planned attempt to return Americans to the lunar surface. Testing on the spacesuits began earlier this month, the same day NASA pushed the Artemis III timeline from 2025 to 2026.

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