Japanese Billionaire Launches To International Space Station Awaiting SpaceX Moon Ride

Three new astronauts launched to the International Space Station this morning, 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 with SpaceX’s future Starship rocket.

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

Their journey is part of Russia’s re-emergence in the world of space tourism. The flight comes just two months after Russia launched a Russian actress and director to the ISS to film scenes for an upcoming movie called The challenge. Meanwhile, Maezawa and Hirano fly to the ISS through a partnership with Space Adventures, a company that facilitates space travel for interested tourists. The company helped organize trips to the ISS for seven people on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft in the early 2000s. However, it halted flights after the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle in 2011, as the space agency needed seats on Russia’s Soyuz rockets to get American astronauts and international partners to the ISS.

With the help of Space Adventures, Maezawa trained in the Russian Star City to prepare him for his flight. Maezawa plans to film his time on the ISS with Hirano’s help and post videos of his adventures on his YouTube channel. Before his flight, Maezawa also came up with a list of “100 things to do in space”, according to Space Adventures. One of the things he hopes to do on his list is play badminton with Misurkin.

Yusaku Maezawa stands 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 through an online fashion retailer called Zozotown, has already announced his interest in spaceflight. The billionaire announced in 2018 that he had purchased a trip around the moon with SpaceX’s future Starship rocket, a vehicle the company is building to one day take humans to the moon’s surface and Mars. For that mission, called Dear Moon, Maezawa plans to bring up to eight people for the journey. Originally, he had hoped to bring all the performers, but in March he launched a competition to let anyone around the world apply to fly with him, “to give as many talented individuals as possible the opportunity to go.” Maezawa also announced plans in 2020 to film a dating reality show to find a girlfriend to go into space with him, but that idea was eventually dropped.

In July, Maezawa posted a video of some of the filmed job applications sent to him by people interested in flying him around the moon. In the video, he said his team was in the final stages of screening to pick the finalists. Meanwhile, SpaceX’s Starship rocket has yet to fly to Earth orbit. The company has flown prototypes of the rocket to great heights above the Earth and attempted to land them back on the ground. Only one of those prototypes managed to sustain the landing without exploding afterward. SpaceX is working on its first orbital launch in January or February 2022. Even if that’s a success, there are still plenty of milestones for the company to reach before it can safely fly humans near the moon and then land them back on Earth.

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