The Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX, carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft named “Freedom,” successfully launched from NASA’s Cape Canaveral base after a 24-hour delay. The spacecraft is part of the Ax-3 commercial space mission by the American private company Axiom Space, with four astronauts on board.
Among the astronauts is Italian Air Force Colonel Walter Villadei, who stated in an interview with askanews, “Essential services and applications for security and our armed forces derive from space. Therefore, being present in space, understanding how this environment works, and growing in terms of operational knowledge are crucial for defense. I believe collaborations like the one with Axiom, which is building a new station, will expand the possibilities for future space research and experimentation. We are pioneers in this sense, not only in defense but also as a country. We have been at the forefront of discussions with Axiom for several years, and I hope this initiative is just the beginning of a long sequence.”
Beyond scientific experiments, an interesting aspect of this journey is the inclusion of Italian food. The crew enjoyed Italian cuisine during the 14-day pre-departure quarantine and will continue to do so in orbit, thanks to specially created products by prominent Italian companies. The Space Food project, presented in Washington last December, aligns with the Italian government’s submission of Italian cuisine for UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage status in March 2023.
Having undergone extensive cosmonaut training with Roscosmos in Russia and a suborbital flight with Virgin Galactic on the “Virtute 1” mission in 2023, Villadei is on his first flight to the International Space Station. Turning 50 in April, he serves as the pilot of the Crew Dragon spacecraft “Freedom” by SpaceX. The Italian Defense has entrusted him with the “Voluntas” mission, marking Italy’s first commercial space mission. During the two weeks aboard the International Space Station, Villadei will conduct various scientific experiments and test new technologies for the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the national industry.
“The portfolio of experiments we are taking into orbit is diverse,” said the astronaut. “We have experiments proposed and developed by the Air Force, focusing on understanding how the human body changes in these conditions. The mission begins in January 2024, which is an extraordinary year for Italy, commemorating the sixty years since the launch of San Marco 1, a remarkable initiative by General Broglio. This synergy, seen in the past and now, demonstrates Italy’s extraordinary vision and capability.”
The launch delay from January 17 to 18 was necessary, explained Axiom Space in a statement, to allow support teams to complete pre-launch checks and analyze data, including the parachute system’s energy modulator, which slows down the spacecraft during the final phase of reentry to Earth.
This mission effectively inaugurates a new era in space flights, thanks to the support of private companies like Axiom Space. Axiom Space is set to launch the first commercial space station in history, whose modules are initially constructed in Italy by Thales Alenia Space in Turin. The station will initially dock with the ISS as an additional element before detaching to become autonomous. It will provide opportunities for microgravity research, including commercial and defense purposes, with significant implications for the new space economy on Earth.