On Thursday, 18 January, the first commercial space mission, composed solely of European astronauts, was launched, as reported by Euractiv. Organized by the Texas-based startup Axiom Space, the Crew Dragon capsule from SpaceX, the space technology company owned by Elon Musk, was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The autonomously operated Crew Dragon was expected to reach the ISS early on Saturday morning and dock with the outpost orbiting some 250 miles (400 km) above Earth and currently occupied by seven regular crew members.
The crew of four astronauts—Marcus Wandt from Sweden, Michael López-Alegría, a dual Spanish-American national, Walter Villadei from Italy, and Alper Gezeravcı from Türkiye—set off on a two-week mission.
Interestingly, Gezeravcı is the first astronaut in Türkiye’s history to have the opportunity to go into space.
The crew is scheduled to spend around 14 days on board the ISS, where they will carry out more than 30 scientific experiments, many of which will focus on the effects of spaceflight on human health and disease. In a more symbolic sense, the mission reflects the increasing number of nations venturing into orbit to enhance their global prestige, military power, and satellite communications.
Hungary joins the latter group of countries. Negotiations between the Hungarian government and Axiom Space have been ongoing for a considerable time to send a Hungarian astronaut into space again after decades, and the results of the talks are already beginning to emerge. Last September, during a visit to Texas,
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó announced that all obstacles to the participation of a Hungarian astronaut in an international expedition had been removed.
‘It is now definite: after many decades, Hungary is sending a man into space again. The research astronaut will carry out experiments on the International Space Station for 30 days, and the list of tasks will be drawn up by Hungarian space industry players and our universities,’ Szijjártó wrote on his Facebook page. The Foreign Minister also mentioned that the Hungarian astronaut will undertake this expedition as part of an international team of four. In the contract with Axiom Space, one of the world’s leading space exploration companies, a launch window has been set from October 2024 to the beginning of 2025.
Péter Szijjártó’s September statement also revealed that there are currently four Hungarian astronaut candidates still in contention, who commenced their training in Austin and Houston last October.
The Hungarian astronaut candidates were received by the President of the Republic, Katalin Novák at the Sándor Palace last November. ‘The Hungarian participation in the space expedition is not only a source of pride for Hungary but also of significant research and economic benefit,’ stated President Novák.
The HUNOR (Hungarian to Orbit) national research spacecraft program was announced as part of the space strategy adopted in 2021. It is in Hungary's strategic interest to maintain and develop its capabilities for space activities, striving to strengthen its position in the increasingly competitive international space environment, building on its decades-long tradition in the industry.
The fact that Hungary is sending a man into space again is not only symbolic.
The Hungarian space industry companies, higher education institutions, and research institutes involved in the mission will establish a ‘space industry reference’ through the tools and knowledge developed, which is a prerequisite for entering the global market. The international experience gained through the implementation of its research spacecraft program will significantly enhance Hungary's role in the international space race and could provide a significant competitive advantage to the sectors involved.