A Japanese billionaire has fulfilled his childhood dream of travelling to space, as one of two passengers onboard a Russian rocket that blasted off towards the International Space Station.
Yusaku Maezawa, the founder of Zozo, a successful online fashion business, and his production assistant, Yozo Hirano, on Wednesday became the first space tourists to travel to the ISS for more than a decade.
But Maezawa, a noted art collector who reportedly has a net worth of $1.9bn (£1.44bn), has said his ambitions do not end there, having signed up for a more ambitious journey around the moon on Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket planned for 2023.
On launch day, Maezawa and his crew left their hotel in Baikonur to a Soviet-era song played for all cosmonauts before 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 to get his spacesuit fitted.
“Dream come true,” the tycoon tweeted before he and Hirano boarded a three-seat Soyuz spacecraft piloted by the Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin in the run-up to their launch from the cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
“I’m excited,” he told reporters on the eve of his 12-day journey. “I feel like an elementary school student about to go on an outing. I didn’t think I would be able to go to space. I used to like the starry sky and heavenly bodies. I feel fortunate to have this opportunity and to finally fulfil my dream.”
The 46-year-old used social media to chronicle the 100 days he spent preparing for the mission, saying he had enjoyed the experience of induced weightlessness on an adapted plane, but confessing that sitting in a spinning chair had been “like torture”.
He and Hirano, a film producer, will document daily life on the space station, where the entrepreneur will perform 100 tasks for the tycoon’s YouTube channel, which has more than 750,000 subscribers.
Maezawa, who sold Zozo to SoftBank in 2019, will follow his ISS mission by becoming the first private passenger on the moon voyage aboard the SpaceX rocket.
He is searching for eight people who “see themselves as artists” – but who do not necessarily have to be artists – to join him on the six-day trip, which he will pay for himself. He has reportedly received more than a million applications since last year.
Named by Forbes as Japan’s 30th richest person, Maezawa is seen as something of a maverick in his native country, where he has made headlines with his liking for private jets, supercars and works of art.
He created a Twitter frenzy last year when he said he would give away ¥1m (£6,650) each to 1,000 of his 13.8 million followers as a “social experiment”. He abandoned another online contest seeking candidates to be his girlfriend but only after attracting almost 30,000 applicants.