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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shuttleworth Set for 10:26 Blastoff

APMark Shuttleworth saluting alongside flight commander Yury Gidzenko after a news conference Wednesday at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan -- After 23 years of dreaming and eight months of training, Mark Shuttleworth was excited and edgy on Wednesday as he counted down the final hours before blasting off as the world's second space tourist.

"I have some nervousness and some anxiety -- I am not a professional astronaut," Shuttleworth, 28, said as he sat beside his two crew mates, Russian cosmonaut Yury Gidzenko and Italian Air Force pilot Roberto Vittori.

The official position of the South African Internet tycoon on the Soyuz TM-34 spacecraft is "flight participant." He is paying $20 million to the Russian Space Agency -- a sum paid in installments that will be complete only at the end of the 10-day mission, known as "Marco Polo."

The three-man crew blasts off Thursday at 10:26 a.m. Moscow time from the same pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome where the Space Age began.

Sputnik, the world's first satellite, lifted off from there in 1957, followed four years later by Soviet cosmonaut Yury Gagarin, who made the world's first manned flight.

The crew is headed to the International Space Station to deliver the Soyuz capsule that they are riding in. A Soyuz is always kept docked at the space station as a lifeboat. Every six months, it is replaced. The 49-meter rocket, adorned with the crew's three national flags, is expected to reach the space station by Friday. "We are ready. We are sure of ourselves and our hardware," said flight commander Gidzenko, who is the only one of the three men with space experience.

They have spent the past eight months training together at Russia's Star City, outside of Moscow, and a week at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Shuttleworth, determined to be more than simply a passenger, has also been trained by a South African scientist to help conduct an experiment on how sheep and mice stem cells react in zero-gravity. He wore a patch Wednesday on his blue spacesuit bearing the red ribbon symbolizing the fight against AIDS, saying that he hoped some of the experiments will in "some small way" help in the battle.

Shuttleworth is the second paying space tourist to ride to the space station with the Russians. He follows American businessman Dennis Tito, who also reportedly paid $20 million for his voyage last year.

Struggling to keep alive the space program that astonished the world by sending Gagarin into orbit in 1961, the Russians began exploring alternative sources of funding after the breakup of the Soviet Union. In addition to offering seats to paying riders, the Russians have courted Western companies eager for a chance to work in the world's oldest space facility.

"The Russians were near starving; five or 10 years ago it looked like they were all going to disappear, but now Western money has come in and things are looking brighter," said James Oberg, a U.S. expert on the Russian space program.

Shuttleworth said he is grateful for the chance the Russians offered him.

"I believe we are stretching the boundaries of the cosmos and in the next few years, I believe we will make the cosmos even more accessible," he said.