Axiom Space astronaut Marcus Wandt says space is ‘more real’ thanks to private flights (Image Credit: Space.com)
An astronaut from a new class of European spaceflyers says he’s ready to take flight.
Marcus Wandt is a “project astronaut” from Sweden with the European Space Agency (ESA). Just a year ago, he was essentially put on call for some future spaceflight after his selection.
Now space is “more real,” Wandt said in a livestreamed press conference Tuesday (Nov. 15). That’s because Wandt will make a two-week visit to space no sooner than January 2024 to the International Space Station (ISS), aboard Houston-based Axiom Space‘s Ax-3 flight. Ax-3 will launch to the ISS from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, using SpaceX‘s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket.
“So much has happened,” Wandt said of the whirlwind time he has had since he became a “project astronaut” on Nov. 23, 2022, not quite a year ago. A dozen potential ESA astronauts are part of this new category of people who passed astronaut selection but were not recruited by ESA until an active flight opportunity presented itself. Wandt, a lieutenant colonel in the Swedish Air Force, remained on duty with his employer until ESA called him up for Ax-3 in June.
Axiom Space bills Ax-3 as an all-European flight. The mission will be commanded by former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, a dual U.S.-Spanish citizen who also commanded Ax-1. The other crew members include Wandt, Alper Gezeravcı (Turkey’s first citizen in space) and Italian Air Force Col. Walter Villadei. As Villadei flew to suborbital space on Virgin Galactic’s first commercial launch this past June, Ax-3 will be López-Alegría’s sixth space mission, Villadei’s second and the first for Wandt and Gezeravcı.
Previously during a media call in October, Wandt joked that the rapid flight assignment meant he was doing his training “a little bit backwards.” A typical astronaut candidate does basic training for a couple of years before being eligible for a spaceflight. As the first project astronaut expected to fly of his group, Wandt is instead doing his mission-specific training first before completing the necessary basic training he’ll need: “We’re building on extra things that I didn’t have from the European Space Agency in the beginning.”
Wandt acknowledged “challenging” moments in the training, but says the four astronauts are “helping each other out, and we get in there really fast. When we learn what we need to do, then we use the next session to consolidate and agree [that] this is how we’re going to do it then what if this happens … those discussions are really interesting, stimulating and it works out well in the group.”
Wandt emphasized that for ESA, the agency is hoping to use the project astronaut program as “a different way of gaining access to space” as by using short-term commercial fights such as this one, there’s a potential to “get human space flights done.”
“It only provides more efficiency and more opportunities to get up there and to continue push our boundaries and gain more knowledge, so it feels fantastic,” he said of the program.
Financing of Wandt’s mission was announced in April 2023, two months before his selection. It comes in part from the Swedish Space Agency, which says its puts most of its money into ESA and bilateral cooperation. Other partners include the Swedish Space Corp., Sweden’s Armed Forces alongside companies Saab and FAM, the agency said in an April 2023 press release (translation provided by Google).
Wandt will be the third Swedish citizen in space, the release added. The other two individuals are Christer Fuglesang (who flew in 2006 and 2009 for brief missions to the ISS with ESA) and Jessica Meir, a Swedish-American NASA astronaut who flew to the ISS for 205 days in 2019.