At least a grain of sand in Recep Tayyip Erdogan's victory in the run-off of Turkey's recent presidential election is due to the political leader's determination to have a compatriot in orbit before the end of the year.
In the run-up to the election campaign, it was Erdogan himself who, during an air show in Istanbul, presented the first two astronaut candidates to the national television cameras.
The Ankara government has chosen a fighter pilot from its air force, Colonel Alper Gezeravci, 43, to be the first Turk to reach outer space.
The colonel has 21 years of service, is an accredited F-16 pilot, has perfected his studies at the US Air Force Institute of Technology and has excelled in every medical, psychological, intellectual and motor test he has undergone.
His deputy is a 30-year-old aeronautical engineer, Tuva Cihangir Atasever, who works for the Turkish defence company Roketsan, Turkey's leading missile and rocket manufacturer. He is the colonel's back-up man, who he would replace in the event of any incident preventing him from taking part in the flight.
Axiom's third private flight
With NASA's approval, Colonel Alper Gezeravci is one of the four astronauts assigned to the Axiom 3 mission, a private flight planned to take off in a Falcon 9 launcher from the Kennedy Space Center (Florida) in November.
It will be the third space mission to be organised by the US company Axiom Space, the same company that flew Saudi scientist Rayyanah Barnawi and Saudi captain Ali al-Qarni to the ISS and has just brought them back safely.
The exact date of departure of the manned Dragon capsule from the Axiom 3 mission is not yet known. It is only known that it will remain attached to the orbital complex for 14 days. According to Erdogan himself, the Turkish astronaut will carry out "13 different experiments prepared by national universities and research institutions" during those days, but it has not been revealed what they consist of.
In order to acquire the basic notions of their activity in space, both aspiring astronauts have been at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston (Texas) for several weeks.
NASA technicians are putting them through intensive training to familiarise them with the workings of the Dragon capsule in which they will be flying into space, how to get around inside the ISS, how to use the equipment where they will be conducting tests and how to automate the emergency procedures in case they have to evacuate the space station.
Michael Lopez-Alegria will be the mission commander
They must also know how to coordinate their activities in orbit with those of the seven professional astronauts from Expedition 69 who remain on the ISS, including Emirati astronaut Sultan al-Neyadi, who is due to return to Earth in August.
The US Space Act allows NASA to enter into agreements with commercial companies to train private crew members, use astronaut training facilities at Johnson Space Center and launch services at Kennedy Space Center. All this, of course, against payment of the costs involved.
The Turkish astronaut will be accompanied by three other passengers. One is Colonel Walter Villadei, a 49-year-old transport pilot and engineer with the Italian Military Aeronautics. The Italian Air Force has just celebrated its centenary and Colonel Villadei's flight is part of the celebrations to mark its century of existence.
The mission commander is US Navy Captain, former combat pilot and retired NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria. Aged 65, he is now the director of business development at Axiom Space. With five space missions under his belt, the most recent is Axiom-1 in April 2022. The fourth crew member has not yet been appointed.
The ticket for a Turkish crew member to travel to the ISS has been in the possession of the Turkish Space Agency or TUA - an acronym for the Turkish Türkiye Uzay Ajansı - since 19 September. It was on that date, in Paris, that Erdogan's deputy minister of industry and technology, Mehmet Fatih Kacır, purchased a ticket for Axiom to realise the now re-elected president's wish to see one of his compatriots in orbit.