Japanese billionaire flies to International Space Station while waiting for SpaceX Moon’s turn

Three new astronauts were launched this morning to the International Space Station, a crew consisting of a Russian cosmonaut and two Japanese space tourists. One of the tourists on board was Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire who announced a few years ago its intention to one day fly around the Moon on SpaceX’s future Starship rocket.

The trio lifted off on top of a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan at 2:38 a.m. ET, docking with the space station about six hours later at 8:40 a.m. ET. Maezawa’s teammates include Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and Japanese tourist Yozo Hirano, who is Maezawa’s producer and manager. The group is expected to spend approximately 12 days on the ISS before returning to Earth on December 19.

Their trip is part of Russia’s re-emergence in the world of orbital space tourism. The theft comes just two months after Russia launched a Russian actress and director aboard the ISS to film scenes from an upcoming film titled The challenge. Meanwhile, Maezawa and Hirano fly to the ISS through a partnership with Space Adventures, a company that organizes space trips for interested tourists. The company helped orchestrate trips to the ISS for seven people in the early 2000s aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. However, it halted flights after the withdrawal of NASA’s space shuttle in 2011 because the space agency needed seats on Russian Soyuz rockets to bring US astronauts and international partners to the ISS.

With the help of Space Adventures, Maezawa underwent training in Star City in Russia to help her prepare for her flight. Maezawa plans to film her visit to the ISS with help from Hirano and post videos of her adventures on his YouTube channel. Before his flight, Maezawa also made a list of “100 things to do in space”, from Space Adventures. One of the items he hopes to make on his list is play badminton with Misurkin.

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Yusaku Maezawa in front of a Falcon 9 rocket at SpaceX headquarters, ahead of his Dear Moon announcement.
Photo by David McNew / AFP via Getty Images

Maezawa, who made his fortune from an online fashion retail business called Zozotown, has previously made known his interest in spaceflight. The billionaire announced in 2018 that he had purchased a trip around the moon aboard SpaceX’s future Starship rocket, a vehicle the company is building to take people to the lunar surface and to Mars one day. For this mission, dubbed Dear Moon, Maezawa plans to take up to eight people with him on the trip. Originally he had hoped to bring all the artists with him, but in March he launched a competition to allow anyone in the world to apply to fly with him, “to give as many people as possible talented women the opportunity to leave “. Maezawa also announced his plans in 2020 to film a reality show to find a girlfriend to go to space with him, but that idea was ultimately scrapped.

In July, Maezawa posted a video of some of the filmed applications sent to him by people interested in circling the moon with him. In the video, he said his team are in the final round of selection to pick the finalists. Meanwhile, SpaceX’s Starship rocket has yet to fly into orbit. The company flew prototypes of the rocket at high altitudes above Earth and attempted to land them on the ground. Only one of these prototypes managed to land successfully without subsequently exploding. SpaceX prepares for its first orbital launch in January or February 2022. Even if it’s a success, the company still has to go through many steps before it can safely transport people near the Moon and then return them to Earth.

With Starship’s timeline somewhat questionable, this trip to the ISS is a much faster way for Maezawa to get his dose of space while he waits. Maezawa and his crew will join two Russian cosmonauts, three NASA astronauts and a German astronaut from the European Space Agency who already live on the ISS.

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