Live video: Watch the SpaceX Axiom astronaut launch

A private astronaut mission to the International Space Station is scheduled to launch on Thursday. But unlike previous flights of this type, none of the passengers are wealthy space tourists paying for their own trip to orbit.

Instead, three nations — Italy, Sweden and Turkey — are taking advantage of new commercial possibilities to send astronauts from government space programs to the orbital outpost. For Türkiye, he will be the country’s first astronaut.

The private astronaut mission is the third for Houston-based Axiom Space, which has been sending paying customers for two-week stays at the International Space Station. In 2019, NASA opened its portion of the space station to visitors, unlike previous policies. (Russia has hosted a number of space tourists on the International Space Station since 2001.)

Here’s what you need to know about Thursday’s launch.

The launch, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, is scheduled for 4:49 p.m. ET on Thursday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch was scheduled for Wednesday, but SpaceX decided to delay it one day. “The additional time allows teams to complete pre-launch checks and data analysis on the vehicle,” the company said.

Forecasts give an 80 percent chance of favorable conditions at the launch pad. If the launch is delayed, backup opportunities will be available on Friday.

About two hours before liftoff, the four astronauts were dressed and seated in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, preparing to be sealed inside.

Axiom and SpaceX We have begun streaming coverage of the launch, which you can watch in the video player embedded above. NASA Television will join coverage at 3:45 p.m.

Crew members include Alper Gezeravci, Turkish Air Force fighter pilot; Walter Villadei, colonel of the Italian Air Force; and Marcus Wandt, a fighter and test pilot who previously served in the Swedish Air Force. Their governments have paid tens of millions of dollars for each astronaut’s trip.

Gezeravci will be Turkey’s first astronaut and hopes to serve as an inspiration for future generations. “This space flight is not a destination of our journey,” he said during a news conference last week. “This is just the beginning of our journey.”

Mr. Villadei of Italy, the mission’s pilot, has already been in space, but only for a few minutes. He was one of three members of the Italian Air Force who participated in a Virgin Galactic suborbital flight in June last year, conducting various experiments in biomedicine, fluid dynamics and materials science.

In 2022, Wandt applied to become an astronaut at the European Space Agency, but was not one of five people chosen to be full-time career astronauts. But he was selected as one of the “reserve” astronauts, who remain in their current jobs but are eligible for future missions.

When Axiom approached Swedish officials to ask about an available seat on this private astronaut mission, they agreed to purchase the ticket. ESA signed a one-year contract with Mr. Wandt as a project astronaut and provided him with training for the mission.

Commander of the mission is Michael López-Alegría, former NASA astronaut and now chief astronaut of Axiom. NASA requires that private astronaut missions be led by a former NASA astronaut. López-Alegría flew on three space shuttle missions and also spent seven months on the International Space Station from September 2006 to April 2007. He also commanded the first private Axiom astronaut mission in 2004.

If the mission launches on Thursday, it will arrive at the International Space Station on Saturday at 5:15 a.m. Eastern Time.

Saudi Arabia took two astronauts to the International Space Station on the previous Axiom flight last year. During their mission, they carried out a variety of scientific experiments.

Similar to Sweden’s agreement for Mr Wandt, Poland has an astronaut, Slawosz Uznanski, who is another of ESA’s reserve astronauts, prepared for a future Axiom flight. The UK Space Agency has also signed an agreement with Axiom to fly British astronauts into orbit.

The United Arab Emirates purchased a flight on a Russian Soyuz rocket in 2019 for an eight-day stay at the International Space Station for one of its astronauts, Hazzaa Al-Mansoori. Axiom Space arranged a six-month stay at the space station for a second Emirati astronaut, Sultan Alneyadi, in 2023.