On Wednesday, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa arrived at the International Space Station, marking Russia's return to space tourism after a decade-long pause that saw the rise of competition from the United States. Maezawa and his assistant Yozo Hirano blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan earlier on Wednesday.
Maezawa and his crew left their hotel in Baikonur to a Soviet-era song played for all cosmonauts ahead of their flights. The song, about cosmonauts missing home, was sung partially in Japanese.
Maezawa's family and friends, some holding Japanese flags, waved him off as he was driven off to get his spacesuit fitted.
"Dreams come true," the tycoon tweeted on Wednesday morning.
They docked with the Poisk module of the Russian segment of the ISS at 1340 GMT, the Russian space agency said. A Roscosmos live feed showed the hatch of the Soyuz MS-20 capsule open at 1611 GMT, showing Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin entering the ISS, followed by Maezawa and Hirano. Their journey aboard the three-person Soyuz spacecraft piloted by Misurkin took just over six hours, capping a banner year that many have seen as a turning point for private space travel.
As the hatches opened, the trio floated into the orbital station where they were greeted by Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Petr Dubrov. The station is currently home to an international crew of seven people.
The trio will spend 12 days on the station. The Japanese tourists plan to document their daily life aboard the ISS to share on Maezawa's popular YouTube channel.
But who is the Japanese entrepreneur who took a trip to the International Space Station? And which billionaires have done this in the past?
Let’s take a brief look:
Maezawa is a tycoon who made his fortune in fashion retail, launching Japan’s largest online fashion mall, Zozotown. As per Forbes, the 46-year-old Maezawa got his start selling CDs and records of his favourite bands by mail from his home. He founded Zozotown in May 1998, a company which is listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
In September 2019, Maezawa announced that he was resigning as CEO and selling most of his stake to Yahoo Japan in a deal worth more than $2.3 billion. He was estimated to be the 18th richest person in Japan. He collects modern art and plans to build a museum to display it in Chiba, east of Tokyo, as per the magazine.
In January 2020, Maezawa made headlines for advertising that he was seeking a 'life partner' to accompany him on his trip to the moon.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">[WANTED!!!] <br>Why not be the ‘first woman’ to travel to the moon?<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MZ_looking_for_love?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MZ_looking_for_love</a> <a href="https://t.co/R5VEMXwggl">https://t.co/R5VEMXwggl</a> <a href="https://t.co/mK6fIJDeiv">pic.twitter.com/mK6fIJDeiv</a></p>— 前澤友作┃いま宇宙にいるよ (@yousuck2020) <a href="https://twitter.com/yousuck2020/status/1216272633248903168?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 12, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"><script></script>
Maezawa became the first private passenger to book a flyby around the moon with Elon Musk's aerospace company SpaceX, if indeed the trip occurs in 2023. He’ll be joined by eight contest winners.
“I’m so curious, ‘What’s life like in space?’ So, I am planning to find out on my own and share with the world,” Maezawa said in a statement earlier this year.
He and his film producer are the first self-paying tourists to visit the space station since 2009. The price of the trip hasn’t been disclosed.
Maezawa, who has been preparing for the flight at Russian space facilities together with his crewmates, said he was particularly thrilled by training that imitated zero gravity in orbit. He said that training in spacesuits for emergencies on the station was physically very strenuous but interesting.
Maezawa noted that his list of 100 things to do during his time on board the International Space Station would include playing badminton in orbit with his Russian crewmate Misurkin.
Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson led the way on his own rocket ship in July. After returning to Earth, Branson, 71, sprayed G H Mumm champagne over his crew and then chugged it from the bottle. He was followed by Jeff Bezos nine days later on Blue Origin’s first flight with a crew. The two gathered worldwide attention in their short trips that didn’t make it into orbit.
Blue Origin, the company of Amazon founder Bezos, completed two missions beyond the Earth's atmosphere. The passengers included 90-year-old Star Trek star William Shatner and Bezos himself.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX made its first private voyage in mid-September, though without Musk aboard.
In September, billionaire Jared Isaacman led the first all-private orbital mission that splashed down after three days in orbit. His flight was on a Dragon capsule and Space X rocket built by the space-obsessed Musk.
Unlike the other missions, Isaacman’s ride raised more than $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital including $100 million from Isaacman and $50 million from Musk.
Although those companies' flights do not go into orbit, they offer several minutes in zero gravity without requiring months of training and at a significantly lower cost.
With inputs from agencies