SpaceX’s first moon tourist Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and special guests will orbit the moon in 2023

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Photo: Elon Musk and Yusaku Maezawa/Youtube screengrab

On Monday, Elon Musk’s space transportation company SpaceX announced that the first private passenger who will orbit the moon aboard the forthcoming Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) is Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, founder and chief executive of online fashion retailer Zozo. Mr. Maezawa will board the flight in 2023, but he is not going alone.

In an unconventional twist that made this already momentous announcement even more curious, Mr. Maezawa said he did not want to experience the flight (which can seat up to 100 people) without company.

“I choose to go to the moon, with artists,” Mr. Maezawa said, echoing President John F. Kennedy’s words in a 1962 speech.

Mr. Maezawa plans to select six to eight artists from around the world to join him on the week-long lunar orbit, literally the opportunity of a lifetime. He wants his guests, creative people from designers to architects, to be inspired by the voyage and to create something once they return to Earth. “These masterpieces will inspire the dreamer within all of us,” he said.

“I wish to create amazing works of art for humankind,” said Mr. Maezawa, who was sharing the stage at the news conference with SpaceX founder Elon Musk on Monday. “Just thinking about it now gets my heart racing.”

Mr. Maezawa, 42, interestingly approached SpaceX with the idea for the flight. A known lover of art, he purchased a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat for US$110 millionin 2017. After remarking on his excitement to see the future works of art that the lunar orbit will inspire in the artists, he said he wondered what masterpiece Basquiat, who died in 1988, might have created if he went on the trip.

Photo: Yusaku Maezawa/Youtube screengrab

It is not clear how much Mr. Maezawa’s ticket aboard the aboard the BFR will be, but Mr. Musk said that Mr. Maezawa has already made “a very significant deposit”, which will cover a big portion of the developmental fees of the soon-to-be-built space vehicle. Mr. Musk also said that Mr. Maezawa has done a lot to restore his faith in humanity by being so willing to give SpaceX so much money for a venture that is risky.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets are significant technological achievements, but Mr. Musk and his engineers have started work toward the BFR, a much more advanced and ambitious vehicle than the first two. Mr. Musk has said that part of his vision to spread humanity throughout the solar system is to one day make regular trips to and from Mars, in order to create a permanent, self-sustaining human presence there.

Commenting of the upcoming 2023 lunar orbit trip, SpaceX said, “Only 24 humans have been to the moon in history,” emphasizing that since the 1972 Apollo mission, no one has visited the moon since.

Mr. Maezawa was asked what a lot of people might have on their minds – if a trip around the moon for the sake of art is the best way to spend his fortune. While acknowledging the philanthropic efforts of other entrepreneurs, he said, in Japanese, “I want to contribute to society in a different way.”

For Mr. Maezawa, art is his vehicle to give hope for the world. “Art makes people smile, brings people together.”