SpaceX private spaceflight ambitions got a big boost in 2018 when Japanese entrepreneur and billionaire Yusaku Maezawa announced he’d be taking a trip aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon on a round-trip flight passing the moon. Maezawa is still on track to make that trip by 2023, according to current schedules, but he’s so eager to get to space that he just announced he’ll make a visit to the International Space Station as a private astronaut this December.
Maezawa will go as a client of Space Adventures, on a Russian Soyuz rocket set to take off from Kazakhstan on December 8, and he’ll be accompanied by his production assistant Yozo Hirano. Space Adventures is the same company behind prior Soyuz commercial spaceflight missions, including the trip made by Anousheh Ansari in 2006 and Guy Laliberté in 2009, among others. Laliberté’s trip was the most recent, with space tourism at the station officially on hold since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 since Soyuz has been the only means to access the ISS. Now that SpaceX is flying regular astronaut shuttle missions, however, tourist trips are back on.
The trip that Maezawa plans to take will take place over the course of 12 days, and he’ll be doing three months of training in Russia to get ready for the experience. In addition to being the first private astronaut visit to the ISS in more than 10 years, this is also the first time that two private astronauts will fly onboard the same Soyuz at the same time. Maezawa and Hirano will also be the first Japanese citizens to make the journey as private individuals.
It may seem like overkill to get to visit space twice in a lifetime as a private astronaut, but Maezawa says he’s driven by a curiosity of “what’s life like in space?” which will of course be useful information to have on the planned moon mission, which will spend three days getting there, make a loop around our natural satellite, and then spend three days coming back. He’s also planning to post the experience to YouTube, which is why Hirano is accompanying him to document the trip.