Türkiye’s first astronaut will have “important tasks” after successfully completing a space mission, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Alper Gezeravcı a day after his return to Earth.
The SpceX Dragon spacecraft carrying Gezeravcı and three other members splashed down off the coast of Florida on Friday, completing its return after a nearly three-week stay at the International Space Station (ISS).
In a phone call on Saturday, Erdoğan expressed his hope to meet Gezeravcı in person in Ankara to obtain more details about his stay on the ISS.
“From now on you will have very important tasks,” the president told Gezeravcı, thanking him for successfully completing the mission.
Gezeravcı said that this trip was “an inspiring duty” for Türkiye and future generations.
Türkiye became the 22nd country to reach the ISS, he said, adding that his country got there “the fastest, from the beginning of training to the execution of the mission on the ISS.”
Türkiye celebrated the launch of Gezeravcı from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 19 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. A former fighter pilot and captain for Turkish Airlines (THY), he became the first person from his country to fly to space.
The Axiom 3 Mission (Ax-3) crew docked at the ISS on January 20. The spacecraft undocked last Wednesday for a return trip that lasted about 47 hours.
After initial safety checks by SpaceX personnel, the Dragon capsule was lifted to a recovery ship and its crew disembarked from the spacecraft.
On the ship, crew members took their first steps after about three weeks in weightless conditions.
The crew traveled to Houston, Texas, where they will remain under observation to complete the adaptation process.
While in orbit, Gezeravcı and his three crewmates from Spain, Italy and Sweden conducted around 30 scientific experiments, learning more about the impact of microgravity on the human body, the advancement of industrial processes and more. They also spoke with schoolchildren and officials from their countries.
About half of the experiments were performed by Gezeravcı alone.
The mission was initially going to last two weeks, but the return trip was delayed several days due to bad weather, forcing an 18-day stay on the ISS.
Erdoğan said after the crew landed that Türkiye would send many more people into space.
The trip is part of Türkiye’s ambitious 10-year space roadmap, unveiled in early 2021, which includes missions to the Moon and the development of internationally viable satellite systems.
The program plans to work with other countries to build a spaceport and create a global brand in satellite technology.
Gezeravcı’s journey will almost certainly contribute to scientific literature, boosting the Turkish people’s interest in space.
In his first remarks after the launch, Gezeravcı said: “The future is in the heavens,” reciting the words of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Türkiye.
“As Türkiye, we are experiencing the joy of taking a step towards the first in our history. We are eager to contribute to the science and research carried out here,” he added.
Experiments on the ISS
As soon as Gezeravcı arrived at the ISS as a low-Earth orbit laboratory, he transferred the experimental setups from the Dragon capsule to pre-experiment storage positions.
He then observed reactions from various microgravity experiments, from cancer to immune cells and from algae to propolis.
Successfully carried out 13 experiments prepared by the Turkish Space Agency (TUA) and the TÜBITAK Space Commission.
Gezeravcı’s experiments, conducted over 14 days, had definitions of terms for better understanding shared daily on the Turkish Space Agency’s (TUA) social media accounts.
Links with Türkiye
Gezeravcı answered questions from the public, especially young people, about space and explained scientific research through live connections with Earth.
His first contact was with Erdoğan, to whom he expressed his pride in representing Türkiye in the ISS and expressed his hope for the Turkish youth.
“You have become an inspiration for our entire nation,” Erdoğan said.
“For years, space has been considered a dream of other nations, and by turning this dream into reality, you have given many young Turks, including myself, the gift of hope,” Gezeravcı told the president.
During his stay on the ISS, Gezeravcı wished that all citizens of Türkiye “be inspired” by his journey, creating “hope for the future.”
He met with students from various cities and answered questions from journalists through a live connection.
He highlighted important qualities of an astronaut: composure, education, language proficiency, flight experience, physical and mental health, patience, perseverance and passion.
Gezeravcı stressed the importance of school lessons for future Türkiye astronauts.
Before his return, he expressed gratitude for the trip.
“This was the starting point of a story, not the destination. May the journey ahead be auspicious for our entire nation,” Gezeravcı said.