The first European commercial mission to the International Space Station takes off successfully

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After a day of delay, a ship commanded by the Spanish-American Michael López-Alegría from the company Axiom Space has just left for the International Space Station, with the Italian pilot Walter Villadei and two mission specialists: the Swede Marcus Wandt and the Turkish Alper Gezeravci . They will carry out, among others, research with stem cells and tumor organoids.

First European commercial mission to the space station
From left to right, ESA astronaut and mission specialist Marcus Wandt, pilot Walter Villadei, commander Michael López-Alegría and mission specialist Alper Gezeravci, during Ax-3 mission training in a Dragon capsule. /SpaceX

The American space company Axiom Space headed to the International Space Station (ISS) for the first European commercial mission, what is commanded by the Hispanic-American Michael López-Alegría. He carries out scientific experiments on stem cells and cancer, among many others.
The so-called Axiom 3 or Ax-3 mission took off at 4:49 p.m. local time (10:49 p.m. Spanish peninsular time) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, in central Florida (USA) aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9.

They travel with Alegría, the Italian pilot Walter Villadei and two mission specialists: the Turkish Alper Gezeravci - the first national from that country to fly into space - and the Swede Marcus Wandt from the European Space Agency (ESA).

It is the first time that the crew, which will be on the ISS for 14 days, is completely European

Ax-3 aims to help expand a new era of privatized use of the ISS, which will bring advances in biomedicine and other fields, while allowing the development of a strong and sustainable market in the low earth orbit (LEO, in English) by advancing microgravity research.

The four astronauts will be in charge of more than two dozen investigations sponsored by the space station National Laboratory, many of which focus on the life sciences.

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The four crew members of the Ax-3 mission./Axiom Space

Dragon capsule on a Falcon 9 rocket

Ax-3, the first manned commercial mission sponsored by ESA, took off in a Dragon capsule powered by a Falcon 9 rocket, both from Elon Musk's SpaceX company.

The ship will arrive at the space station about 36 hours after takeoff. The capsule is scheduled to dock at noon on Saturday. ESA will broadcast and cover these phases.

The so-called Muninn project of European astronaut Marcus Wandt will officially begin as soon as he passes through the hatch. His colleague Andreas Mogensen, a Danish astronaut also from ESA, will welcome him as commander of the space station. It will be the first time that two Scandinavians will live and work together in space.

Cancer and space human resistance

Altogether, the astronauts' mission is to use the unique LEO environment to better understand a variety of biological processes, including how spaceflight affects the human body, the mechanisms behind certain diseases, and how research with mother cells may help lead to the development of new therapies.

Specifically, two investigations with stem cells, López-Alegría explained at a press conference, are being carried out by the Sanford Stem Cell Institute (SSCI) of the University of California in San Diego based on studies carried out on previous Axiom Space missions and on research previous sponsored by the ISS National Laboratory.

One of them will study tumor organoids in microgravity to identify early warning signs of cancer to better predict and treat the disease.

The other will evaluate the changes in the astronaut blood enzymes during and after spaceflight to better understand its role in health and disease.

The results could help identify new therapies and new ways to attack and treat cancer, potentially during the pre-cancer stage.

López-Alegría, a former NASA astronaut, had already commanded Axiom's first commercial mission in 2022, Ax-1, which spent 17 days on the space station. Now it will be two weeks.

According to the Houston (Texas)-based company, this is a new era of opportunities for more countries to join the international space community and access low Earth orbit to advance exploration and research in microgravity.

European astronauts have indicated that they are already physically and mentally ready for this mission, which they consider a new space chapter for that continent.