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Turkey hails its first astronaut who returned from a three-week mission to the International Space Station.

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Turkey’s first astronauts returned home on Monday to a hero’s welcome, portrayed as a symbol of the country’s progress in technology and aerospace.

Alper Gezervasi was greeted by bouquet-laden children at Ankara’s Esenboga Airport as he returned from a three-week private mission to the International Space Station. In return, he handed over the Turkish flags that he had taken with him into space.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has followed Gezervasi’s mission closely, declaring it “the new symbol of a growing, strong and assertive Turkey” after the country celebrated its centenary last year.

Erdogan has spoken several times to Gezervasi, a 44-year-old former Turkish fighter pilot, since leaving for Florida to prepare for the mission.

Their space flight, for which Turkey paid about $55 million (€51 million), was the third such trip organized by Houston-based Axiom Space with NASA and SpaceX.

The campaign is seen as a source of national pride in Turkey and a highlight of its technological progress, especially in the fields of aerospace and military developments such as aerial drones.

Addressing journalists in Esenboğa ahead of the announcement of “Turkey’s first manned space mission”, Industry and Technology Minister Mehmet Fatih Kasir said that the mission was “the first, but it will not be the last in space science and technologies for Turkey.” A new page has been opened.

Turkey established its own space agency in 2018 and said it would land on the moon by 2026.

Gjervasi was also accompanied on the trip by Italian Air Force Colonel Walter Viladei and former Swedish fighter pilot Markus Wandt. He was accompanied by retired NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegría, who now works for Axiom Space.

The crew returned in a SpaceX capsule that parachuted into the Atlantic off the Florida coast on Friday.

While in orbit, the astronauts conducted science 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 splashdown area.

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