In this image from video provided by NASA, the 11 International Space Station crew members representing Expedition 70 (red shirts) and Axiom Space 3 (dark blue suits) on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. (NASA via AP)

In this image from video provided by NASA, the 11 International Space Station crew members representing Expedition 70 (red shirts) and Axiom Space 3 (dark blue suits) on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. (NASA via AP)

AP:  Astronauts from Turkey, Italy and Sweden returned to Earth on Friday, ending a private three-week mission to the International Space Station.

The trio were accompanied by a retired NASA astronaut who now works for Axiom Space, the Houston company that arranged the chartered flight. The crew returned in a SpaceX capsule that parachuted into the Atlantic off the Florida coast.

Turkey celebrated Alper Gezeravci’s launch from Cape Canaveral last month. A former fighter pilot and captain for Turkish Airlines, he became the first person from his country to fly in space.

Gezeravci was joined on the trip by Italian Air Force Col. Walter Villadei, Sweden’s Marcus Wandt, a former fighter pilot chosen as a reserve astronaut by the European Space Agency in 2022 and Michael Lopez-Alegria, their escort.

Turkey, Italy and Sweden financed the mission, paying roughly $55 million apiece. It was Axiom’s third private mission to the space station; the fourth is planned later this year.

Before leaving the space station, Gezeravci thanked his country for its “bold and determined decision” to send a citizen into space as part of its 100th anniversary as a republic.

While in orbit, the astronauts conducted science experiments and chatted with schoolchildren and officials from their countries. They enjoyed a few extra days at the space station, waiting for the weather to improve in the splashdown zone.

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