Japanese billionaire blasts off to International Space Station

Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin (C) and space flight participants - Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa (L) and his assistant Yozo Hirano - attend a training ahead of the expedition to the International Space Station, in Star City outside Moscow on 14 October 2021.
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa (L) blasted off with Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin (C) and production assistant Yozo Hirano (R)

Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa has blasted off on a trip to the International Space Station (ISS), joining the growing list of billionaires who have made it to space.

A Russian rocket carrying Mr Maezawa took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. He is expected to spend 12 days at the ISS, and is the first space tourist to visit the station in recent years.

It is a precursor to Mr Maezawa’s much-publicized trip to the Moon in 2023. Wednesday’s launch saw Mr Maezawa accompanied by Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and video producer Yozo Hirano, who is documenting the voyage for the billionaire’s YouTube channel.

Mr Maezawa underwent a rigorous training programme prior to the launch, which included sleeping on an inclined bed, being spun around in a chair and playing long periods of badminton – all of which he has documented on social media.

In an earlier press conference Mr Maezawa said the trip was a “dream come true”. “People can have hopes and dreams (by seeing that) a regular person like me can go into such an unknown world,” said the billionaire. He has promised to perform 100 tasks while on the ISS, culled from a list of suggestions contributed by the public.

It ranges from the expected, such as introducing his fellow astronauts and showing viewers what life is like on the ISS; to the more whimsical such as playing golf, blowing bubbles, and throwing a paper aeroplane.

Mr Maezawa’s voyage, which is reportedly costing him $88m (£66m), follows fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos’ short journey to space and Richard Branson’s trip to the edge of space earlier this year, in rockets built by their private companies.

The Japanese entrepreneur is known for his eclectic background. The former drummer of a punk rock band founded a company called Start Today in 1998 selling rare CDs and records.

He later pivoted to fashion with e-retailer Zozotown in 2004, and became a billionaire by the time he was in his mid-30s. Forbes magazine lists him as Japan’s 30th richest man, with an estimated personal wealth of $1.9bn (£1.43bn).

Mr Maezawa’s passion for space travel has been well-documented in recent years. He made international news in 2019 when he was revealed to be the first private passenger slated to be flown around the Moon by SpaceX, the company owned by fellow billionaire Elon Musk.

That flight, called dearMoon, is scheduled to happen in 2023. Mr Maezawa announced in March that he would bring eight members of the public along with him and foot the cost of the entire journey. Last year, he also launched a documentary search for a new girlfriend to join him on the trip, before cancelling due to “mixed feelings”.

He has also attracted controversy for holding multiple cash giveaways on Twitter, and in 2019 one of his posts became the most retweeted tweet at that time after promising financial incentives. Mr Maezawa has said he will conduct another giveaway from space on his latest trip.

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