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Turkey first astronaut ready for space mission

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ISTANBUL (AFP) Turkey’s first cosmonaut is due to travel to the International Space Station by the end of the year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that he was forced to cancel several days of performances due to illness. 

Air Force pilot Alper Geseravci, 43, has been selected as the first Turkish citizen in space. His backup is his Tuva Cihangir Atasever, 30, an aerospace systems engineer at Turkish defense contractor Roketsan.

Erdogan made the announcement at the Aerospace Trade Fair Technofest in Istanbul. This was his first public appearance as president since he fell ill during a television interview on Tuesday. He appeared alongside Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Libyan Caretaker Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dubeybeh. “Our friends who are going on Turkey’s first manned space mission will stay on the International Space Station for 14 days,” Erdogan said. “Our astronauts will perform 13 different experiments during this mission, prepared by our country’s prestigious universities and research institutes.”

Erdogan described Geseravci as “a heroic Turkish pilot who achieved great success at the Air Force Command”.

According to the Turkish Space Agency website, Gezeraftsi said he is a 21-year-old Air Force veteran and his F-16 pilot flying over the United States. He attended the Air Force Institute of Technology.

Wearing his red flight jacket and showing he is in good health, President Erdogan addressed the crowd at the festival. Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections are due for his May 14, and polls show Erdogan may have the toughest campaign since he took office 20 years ago.

Turkey is grappling with an ongoing economic recession and the government has come under criticism after an earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in his country in February. Experts attribute the high death toll in part to shoddy construction and building code enforcement.

During his election campaign, Erdogan announced a number of prestigious projects, including Turkey’s first nuclear power plant and the supply of natural gas from Black Sea reserves.