Russia will send Japanese billionaire Maezawa Yusaku to the International Space Station on Wednesday, a move that marks Moscow’s return to the now booming space tourism business after a ten-year hiatus.
One of Japan’s richest men, 46-year-old Maezawa Yusaku will take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan accompanied by his assistant Hirano Yozo.
The Agence France-Presse reporter saw that their Soyuz spacecraft bearing the Japanese flag and Maesawa’s “MZ” logo was moved to the launch pad on Sunday morning in the extremely humid weather in Baikonur.
The mission will end the ten-year pause in the Russian space tourism program, which has not accepted tourists since Guy Laliberte, the co-founder of the Canadian Cirque du Soleil in 2009.
However, in the historic first time, the Russian Space Agency sent actress Yulia Peresilder and director Krim Shipenko to the International Space Station in October, the first in orbit. Filming scenes to beat Hollywood competitors.
The launch of Maezawa comes at a challenging time for Russia, as its aerospace industry is striving to stay relevant in the modern space race and keep up with Western competitors.
Last year, billionaire Elon Musk’s American company SpaceX ended Russia’s monopoly on manned flights on the International Space Station after transporting astronauts to the orbital laboratory of its Crew Dragon capsule.
However, this also frees up seats on the Russian Soyuz rocket previously purchased by NASA, allowing Moscow to accept paying tourists like Maezawa.
Their three Soyuz spacecraft will be piloted by Alexander Misurkin, a 44-year-old Russian astronaut who has already performed two International Space Station missions.
The two will spend 12 days on the space station, where they plan to record their journey for Maezawa Yuzu’s YouTube channel with more than 750,000 subscribers.
According to Forbes, the tycoon is the founder of Japan’s largest online fashion mall and the 30th richest person in the country.
Maezawa and Heino have been training in Star City for the past few months. A small town outside Moscow has trained generations of Soviet and Russian astronauts.
‘The hardest training ever’
Maezawa said that training on a rotating chair “almost felt like torture.”
“This is the hardest training ever,” he tweeted at the end of November.
So far, Russia has cooperated with the U.S. Space Adventure Company to send seven self-financed tourists into space. Maezawa and Hirano will be the first from Japan.
Maesawa’s launch came at the end of the year that became a milestone in amateur space travel.
In September, SpaceX carried out a historic flight. In a mission called Inspiration4, the first batch of civilian crew members orbited the earth for three days.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin has completed two missions outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Passengers included 90-year-old Star Trek stars William Shatner and Bezos himself.
Soon after, billionaire Richard Branson traveled on his Virgin Galactic spacecraft and also provided a few minutes of weightlessness before returning to Earth.
These journeys mark the beginning of the opening of space to non-professionals, and more launches will be announced in the future.
In 2023, SpaceX plans to carry eight amateur astronauts orbiting the moon in a space flight funded by Maesawa Yusaku, and Maesawa Yusaku will also be on board.
Russia also said that when the Soyuz launches in the future, it will bring more tourists to the International Space Station and plans to provide spacewalks for one of them.
For Russia, retaining its title of top space country is a kind of national pride, derived from its achievements in the Soviet era when it competed with the United States.
The Soviets created many space firsts: the first satellite, the first man to enter space, the first woman in space, the first space walk, to name a few.
But in recent years, Russia’s space program has suffered setbacks, including corruption scandals and botched launches, and has faced cuts in state funding.
The industry still relies on Soviet-designed technology, and although new projects have been announced, such as the Venus mission, their timetable and feasibility are still unclear.