SpaceX’s First Private Passenger Is Japanese Fashion Magnate Maezawa

September 17, 2018 Updated: September 20, 2018

LOS ANGELES—Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa said Sept. 17 that he plans to blast off on the first-ever private commercial trip around the moon and will invite six to eight artists, architects, designers and other creative people on the weeklong journey “to inspire the dreamer in all of us.”

The SpaceX Big Falcon Rocket is scheduled to make the trip in 2023, company founder Elon Musk announced at an event on Sept. 17, at its headquarters near Los Angeles.

Maezawa, 42, said he wants his guests for the lunar orbit “to see the moon up close, and the Earth in full view, and create work to reflect their experience.”

Musk said the entrepreneur, founder of Japan’s largest retail website and one the country’s richest people, will pay “a lot of money” for the trip, but declined to disclose the exact amount. Maezawa came to SpaceX with the idea for the group flight, Musk said.

“I did not want to have such a fantastic experience by myself,” said Maezawa, wearing a blue sports jacket over a white T-shirt with printed with a work by the late painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. He said he often mused about what artists like Basquiat or Andy Warhol might have come up with if they’d traveled into space.

“In 2023, as the host, I’d like to invite six to eight artists from around the world to join me on this mission to the moon. These artists will be asked to create something after they return to Earth and these masterpieces will inspire the dreamer within all of us.” Maezawa said, “I wish to create amazing works of art for humankind.”

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa speaks
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa speaks after SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk announced him as the person who would be the first private passenger on a trip around the moon, Sept. 17, 2018, in Hawthorne, Calif. (By Chris Carlson/AP Photo)

Maezawa didn’t immediately say who will be on his guest list for the spaceflight, but in response to a question from a reporter he said he’d consider inviting Musk.

“He’s very graciously offered to provide those seats to artists and cultural influencers and basically key influencers in society. We better get that flight right. We’re gonna definitely be doing everything we possibly can to make sure that it’s a good flight…Maybe we’ll both be on it,” Musk said with a smile.

He said the BFR is still in development and will make several unmanned test launches before it takes on passengers. The reusable 387-foot (118-meter) rocket will have its own dedicated passenger ship.

The mission will not involve a lunar landing.

The average distance from Earth to the moon is about 237,685 miles (382,500 kilometers). Astronauts last visited the moon during NASA’s Apollo program. Twenty-four men flew to the moon from 1968 through 1972 and half of them made it to the lunar surface.

NASA is planning its own lunar flyby with a crew around 2023. The space agency also aims to build a staffed gateway near the moon during the 2020s. The outpost would serve as a stepping-off point for the lunar surface, Mars and points beyond.

Elon Musk talks about Moon Flight
SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk speaks at an event to announce the name of the person who would be the first private passenger on a trip around the moon, Sept. 17, 2018, in Hawthorne, Calif. (By Chris Carlson/AP Photo)

Musk outlined a somewhat different SpaceX mission last year. He said then that two people who know each other approached the company about a weeklong flight to the moon and back. He had said that the trip would happen this year. Musk did not name the clients last year or say how much they would pay.

That original mission would have used a Falcon Heavy rocket — the most powerful rocket flying today — and a Dragon crew capsule similar to the one NASA astronauts will use to fly to the International Space Station as early as next year.

The era of space tourism began in 2001 when California businessman Dennis Tito paid for a journey on a Russian rocket to the International Space Station. The trip was organized by the Virginia-based company Space Adventures, which has since sent several more paying customers on spaceflights.

SpaceX already has a long list of firsts, with its sights ultimately set on Mars. It became the first private company to launch a spacecraft into orbit and safely return it to Earth in 2010, and the first commercial enterprise to fly to the space station in 2012 on a supply mission.

By Christopher Weber

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