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Astronauts return to Earth after private space station trip

The crew returned in a SpaceX capsule that parachuted into the Atlantic off the Florida coast.

The 11 International Space Station crew members with, in blue, the Axiom Space 3 crew, Walter Villadei, Alper Gezeravci and Marcus Wandt. Above them hanging upside down in blue is Axiom Space’s Michael Lopez-Alegria (Nasa via AP)
Space Station Private Crew The 11 International Space Station crew members with, in blue, the Axiom Space 3 crew, Walter Villadei, Alper Gezeravci and Marcus Wandt. Above them hanging upside down in blue is Axiom Space’s Michael Lopez-Alegria (Nasa via AP) (AP)

Astronauts from Turkey, Italy and Sweden returned to Earth on Friday, ending a private three-week mission to the International Space Station.

The trio were accompanied by a retired Nasa astronaut who now works for Axiom Space, the Houston company that arranged the chartered flight.

The crew returned in a SpaceX capsule that parachuted into the Atlantic off the Florida coast.

The SpaceX capsule parachutes into the Atlantic on Friday (Axiom Space via AP)
Space Station-Private Crew The SpaceX capsule parachutes into the Atlantic on Friday (Axiom Space via AP) (AP)

Turkey celebrated Alper Gezeravci’s launch from Cape Canaveral last month. A former fighter pilot and captain for Turkish Airlines, he became the first person from his country to fly in space.

Mr Gezeravci was joined on the trip by Italian air force colonel Walter Villadei, Sweden’s Marcus Wandt, a former fighter pilot chosen as a reserve astronaut by the European Space Agency in 2022 and Michael Lopez-Alegria, their escort.

Turkey, Italy and Sweden financed the mission, paying roughly 55 million dollars (£43.6 million) apiece. It was Axiom’s third private mission to the space station; the fourth is planned later this year.

Before leaving the space station, Mr Gezeravci thanked his country for its “bold and determined decision” to send a citizen into space as part of its 100th anniversary as a republic.

While in orbit, the astronauts conducted science experiments and chatted to schoolchildren and officials from their countries. They enjoyed a few extra days at the space station, waiting for the weather to improve in the splashdown zone.