Turkey’s first astronaut, Alper Gezeravci, was welcomed home as a hero on Monday after a three-week mission to the International Space Station. Children greeted him at Ankara’s Esenboga Airport with bouquets and in return, he handed out Turkish flags that he had taken with him into space. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan closely followed Gezeravci’s mission and has spoken with him on several occasions since he left for Florida to prepare for the journey.
The space flight, which cost Turkey approximately $55 million, was the third such journey organized by Houston-based Axiom Space with NASA and SpaceX. Gezeravci’s mission is viewed as a source of national pride and a demonstration of Turkey’s technological advances, especially in aerospace and military development, such as aerial drones.
The industry and technology minister, Mehmet Fatih Kacir, stated that the mission is just the beginning, and that a new chapter has been opened in space science and technologies for Turkey. Turkey’s own space agency was established in 2018 with the goal of landing on the moon by 2026.
In addition to Gezeravci, Italian air force Col. Walter Villadei and Sweden’s Marcus Wandt, a former fighter pilot, also participated in the mission, along with retired NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who now works for Axiom Space. The crew returned to Earth in a SpaceX capsule that parachuted into the Atlantic off the Florida coast on Friday. While in orbit, the astronauts conducted science experiments and communicated with both schoolchildren and officials from their home countries. They spent extra time at the space station due to poor weather conditions at the planned splashdown zone.