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First Turkish astronaut returns to Earth

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The first Turkish astronaut along with his colleagues from Italy and Sweden returned to Earth on Friday, completing a three-week private mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Turkish astronaut Alper Gezeravcı was launched from Kennedy Space Center on January 18 and conducted scientific experiments.

The crew was accompanied by a retired NASA astronaut who now works for Axiom Space, the Houston-based company that organized the mission. They returned in a SpaceX capsule that parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

Before leaving the space station, Gezeravcı thanked his country for its “courageous and determined decision” to send a citizen into space to mark the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic.

During their stay in orbit, the astronauts conducted scientific experiments and interacted with schoolchildren and officials from their countries. They enjoyed a few extra days on the space station and waited for the weather to improve in the landing zone.

While many hailed the mission as a milestone in Turkey’s space ambitions, some questioned its cost — $55 million for a seat.

Many argue that the funds could have been better spent, especially considering Turkey’s current economic situation. The mission’s funding and its timing, closely preceding local elections, have fueled suspicions of it being a political maneuver by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, has defended the mission, aligning it with Turkey’s National Space Program and its potential scientific contributions.

“He went there well, he arrived back well. We are waiting for him to land in Turkey. God willing, we will send many more [like] Alper Gezeravcı into space,” Erdoğan was quoted by state broadcaster TRT as saying.

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