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Friday, December 2, 2022

A Japanese Billionaire Arrives at the International Space Station for a 12-Day Tourist Observation Trip

Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese business magnate and fashion retail entrepreneur, arrived at the International Space Station on Wednesday for a 12-day visit. He is the latest private-funded visitor to the orbiting laboratory in a year that has seen more visitors fly to space than at any other time in the history of the space programme.

At 2:38 a.m. Eastern time (10:38 a.m. local time), Mr. Maezawa and Yozo Hirano, a production assistant who will chronicle his mission, took off from Baikonur, Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. Mr. Maezawa is the creator of Zozo, a Japanese online fashion shop. A Russian astronaut, Alexander Misurkin, was also on board the spacecraft. Six hours later, at 8:40 a.m., the three-person crew docked with the space station and joined the orbiting outpost, which took place at 11:12 a.m.

Following boarding, the space station’s crew, which has grown to ten members, convened in the Russian section for a short greeting ceremony, during which Mr. Maezawa and the other guests talked to family and friends who had gathered at Baikonur to witness their arrival at the space station.

The launch of the Starship mission, which will take it around the moon and back, is slated for 2023, but it is likely to be postponed due to budget constraints. A group of artists had been invited along for the journey, but Mr. Maezawa changed his mind and established a public contest in which women could apply to be his “life partner” and accompany him on the lunar voyage — a matchmaking quest that would be turned into a documentary — instead. After the news was met with criticism, he withdrew his intentions and expressed regret to the approximately 28,000 women who had submitted applications. Later, he issued a fresh appeal for eight volunteers to accompany him on the expedition in place of the original eight.

Mr. Maezawa’s trip to the International Space Station was announced in May, and he has been preparing at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonauts Training Center, which is located just outside Moscow, for several weeks. Mr. Maezawa will spend 12 days on the station, and Mr. Hirano, who oversees Mr. Maezawa’s YouTube channel, will document the whole expedition from start to finish on his channel.

The space station will be home to Mr. Maezawa, who last year volunteered to give away $9 million to his Twitter followers. He has said that he wants to undertake a similar cash giveaway while on board. Along with that, he aims to complete 100 tasks from a list that he crowdsourced online before his trip, which includes things like getting a haircut and learning to play an instrument, as well as looking for extraterrestrials.

Mr. Maezawa made his reservations for the space station journey via Space Adventures, a U.S.-based organisation that organises space excursions for rich tourists and business travellers. He has not disclosed the amount of money he spent on the expedition.

It was a Soyuz rocket that sent the crew to orbit, which is Russia’s workhorse spacecraft that is used to transport men to the International Space Station. Before SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule replaced the Soyuz spacecraft as NASA’s preferred mode of transportation to the International Space Station, American astronauts travelled to the space station on the Soyuz between 2011 and 2020, with each seat costing NASA between $70 million and $100 million.

Mr. Maezawa’s payment for each of the two seats — his own and Mr. Hirano’s — was “certainly in that ballpark,” according to Eric Anderson, co-founder and chief executive of Space Adventures. One of the items on Mr. Maezawa’s space station to-do list hinted to the possibility of publicising the amount he paid for the journey at some point.

Space Adventures has launched nine missions since 2001, when Dennis Tito, an American engineer and businessman, became the first individual to pay a journey to space entirely on his own dime. Two visitors will go to space at the same time on this voyage, which is a first for the organisation. The fact that Mr. Maezawa was attracted to travel to space in part because “there’s only so much nice dining and other things that he could do” was part of what Mr. Anderson said pushed other affluent space tourists to go to space.

Private persons such as Mr. Maezawa and his partner are not the only ones who have boarded the station this year. In October, a Russian actress and a Russian director were sent to the International Space Station to spend eight days shooting the first feature-length movie featuring sequences filmed in space, which was released in December.

Mr. Musk’s SpaceX company launched the Inspiration4 mission, the world’s first wholly private orbital mission, earlier this year. Four passengers, headed by Jared Isaacman, the mission’s millionaire financier, spent three days circling the Earth at an altitude higher than the space station, according to the mission’s website. Shorter excursions, like as those offered by Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, the publicly listed space tourism companies created by Richard Branson, do not go into orbit and take around 10 minutes from launch to landing.

In addition to Axiom Space, another private space business, plans to connect private modules to the space station, which will ultimately detach together and serve as a laboratory in their own right. The firm, which is similar to Space Adventures, is also organising private journeys to the International Space Station. During its first such trip, which will take place in February, it will transport three affluent people to the laboratory for a total of $55 million apiece.

A Boyle
I cover Science related topics for The National Era
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