December 9, 2022

Japanese billionaire blasts off International Space Station

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 , 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.

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.

For many years the only way to reach the ISS was to travel on a Soyuz capsule, and Russia has a track record of sending space tourists to the station in the 2000s including US millionaire Dennis Tito, the first non-astronaut to go into space.

But with the idea of space tourism gaining pace, in part stoked by companies such as SpaceX, it has started allowing paying customers like Mr Maezawa on its launches again.

Russia also sent film director Klim Shipenko and actor Yulia Peresild to the station in October, who filmed scenes for an upcoming movie.

In the West the likes of Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have been working on developing a separate sector of space exploration which is purely for entertainment of rich clients,

But Russia has not worked out a way of separating the tourists from the professional cosmonauts. When a tourist goes into space on a Russian ticket, they have to be physically and, to some extent, technically, as well prepared as professional astronauts, and go up as a team with space crew.

This requires much more time, money and other resources. It has left the system open to criticism that the tourists are taking up valuable space which should be reserved for the professionals only.

Western commercial space flights are barely breaking the line between the Earth atmosphere and outer space, known as the Karman line, at the altitude of 100 km above sea level. These trips allow the crew to experience zero gravity, enjoy impressive views, then quickly return to Earth. A trip lasts 10-15 minutes and does not require complicated training.

In Russia, the system is much more rigid – if a tourist goes into space, they have to stay for a minimum of one week. They also must be in excellent health and they spend weeks preparing for the trip at the Baikonur launch pad – as Mr Maezawa has.