Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire and fashion retail tycoon, arrived at the International Space Station on Wednesday for a 12-day stay. He became the last private traveler to visit an orbiting laboratory in a year, when more tourists have been in space than ever before.
Mr. Maezawa, founder of Zozo, a Japanese online fashion retailer, launched into space from Kazakhstan at 2:38 am ET (10:38 am local time) on a Russian Soyuz rocket along with Yozo Hirano, production assistant. who will document his trip. Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin was on board. The three-man crew docked at the space station six hours later at 8:40 a.m. and will board the outpost in a couple of hours.
An animated adventurer, Mr. Maezawa gained international attention in 2016 when he spent $ 57.3 million at auction for a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting. In 2017, he paid $ 110.5 million for another painting by the same artist. In 2018, he announced his interest in space travel at an event at SpaceX headquarters in Southern California, where he joined company founder Elon Musk onstage to announce that he would be the first passenger to travel in SpaceX’s giant starship. the next generation ship. a rocket that will one day ferry NASA astronauts to the lunar surface.
This Starship mission, which will orbit the moon and back, is scheduled for 2023, although it will likely be postponed. Mr. Maezawa had planned to invite a group of artists on the trip, but then, early last year, he announced a public competition in which women could apply for the role of his “life partner” and join him on a lunar journey – matchmaking. a quest for the filming of a documentary. After criticizing the announcement, he canceled the plans and apologized to the nearly 28,000 women who applied. Later, he again called eight people to join him on a mission.
In May, 46-year-old Maezawa was announced to enter the space station, and he has been training for several weeks at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center near Moscow. He will spend 12 days at the station, while Mr. Hirano, who runs Mr. Maezawa’s YouTube channel, will chronicle the mission from start to finish.
“I was blessed with this opportunity and I’m really happy to be able to go,” Mr. Maezawa told reporters at a press conference the day before his flight, adding that he is looking forward to seeing Earth from space and soaring in zero gravity. … He said he felt like “an elementary school student waiting for a school trip.”
While on board, he will participate in a research program that studies how the human body responds to space conditions. He compiled a list of 100 things to do while aboard the station, including getting a haircut, playing a musical instrument, and looking for aliens.
For the trip to the space station, Mr. Maezawa has reserved seats at Space Adventures, a US company that organizes trips to space for wealthy tourists. He did not say how much he paid for the mission.
The crew took to space on the Soyuz rocket, Russia’s workhorse spacecraft that sends its astronauts to the International Space Station. Before SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule became a favorite NASA site, American astronauts relied on Soyuz to fly to the space station between 2011 and 2020, with each seat costing NASA roughly $ 70 million to $ 100 million.
The price Mr. Maezawa paid for each of the two seats — his own and Mr. Hirano’s — “was definitely in line with the approximate price,” said Eric Anderson, co-founder and CEO of Space Adventures.
“The price hasn’t gone down, it has gone up over the years,” Mr. Anderson said in a telephone interview. “He has two seats and it’s expensive, but worth it.”
This is the eighth Space Adventures mission since 2001, when Dennis Tito, an American engineer and businessman, became the first person to independently finance a trip to space. Like other wealthy space tourists, Mr. Maezawa was motivated to fly into space in part because “he had so many gourmet meals and other things he could do,” said Mr. Anderson.
Mr. Maezawa and his companion are not the only private individuals to board the station this year. In October, the Russian actress and director traveled to the space station to spend eight days filming the first feature film with scenes shot in space.
And these two aren’t even the only private travelers to go into space this week. On Thursday, Blue Origin, the company founded by former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is set to take its third group of travelers to the edge of space. Michael Strahan, a television personality and former New York Giants quarterback, is one of the six passengers on the New Shepard suborbital spacecraft.
These tourist excursions come as private companies and government space agencies seek to open space to more people than just state-backed astronauts.
Earlier this year, Musk SpaceX launched the first fully private orbital mission called Inspiration4. The four passengers, led by billionaire mission sponsor Jared Isaacman, spent three days orbiting Earth above the space station. Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, a public space tourism company founded by Richard Branson, offer shorter non-orbital trips and run in about 10 minutes from launch to landing.
In addition to short trips into space, Blue Origin and other companies are developing plans to build private space stations in orbit with support from NASA. The agency hopes that the current International Space Station will operate until 2030 before moving to commercial stations.
Axiom Space, another private space company, plans to attach private modules to the space station, which will eventually be separated from each other and become its own laboratory. Like Space Adventures, the company also organizes private trips to the space station. His first such mission is scheduled for February, when he will send three wealthy men to the lab for $ 55 million each.