Photographer describes dearMoon Starship selection as 'ultimate dream'

Karim Iliya, a crew member for SpaceX's private dearMoon mission, told IE he aims to "capture the beauty of our planet" from space.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of Starship.
An artist's impression of Starship.


  • The private SpaceX mission dearMoon is currently scheduled to launch a group of artists to the Moon and back later this year.
  • Eight artists, including a professional photographer Karim Iliya, have been tasked with creating "masterpieces" once they return.
  • Iliya talks to Interesting Engineering (IE) about the work he will do during the "ultimate dream" mission.

Imagine sending off an application for the first all-civilian crewed mission to travel around the Moon and back. The prospect of selection might feel as remote as the natural satellite itself, a pipedream that very briefly rekindles a childhood fantasy.

Days and months go by – pressing send on the application by now a distant memory – and suddenly, you get your response. You've been selected to join a crew of artists and influencers who will fly on the dearMoon mission aboard a SpaceX Starship mega-rocket chartered by Japanese billionaire and entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa.

That's what happened to dearMoon crewmember and professional photographer and filmmaker Karim Iliya. Unsurprisingly, he’s still processing his feelings. “There is no way to put it into words,” he told IE in a discussion over email.

The dearMoon crew will be part of the historic first all-civilian mission to the Moon

Back in March 2021, billionaire Yusaka Maezawa, who made most of his fortune through Japan's largest online fashion retailer, Zozotown, invited public participants to apply to win a seat aboard SpaceX's Starship for his private dearMoon mission.

Surprisingly, the first-ever lunar Starship trip was to be an all-civilian affair, Maezawa revealed during an announcement event. The dearMoon mission will precede NASA’s Artemis III mission, planned for 2025, which will use a modified Starship as a lunar lander. 

What's more, Maezawa was looking for a group of artists to join him on the trip around the Moon. "These artists will be asked to create something after they return to Earth, and these masterpieces will inspire the dreamer within all of us," Maezawa said during the event.

Currently, the plan is for dearMoon to launch later this year, though that is highly dependent on the development of SpaceX’s next-generation Starship rocket, which may fly to orbit next month – though SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently stated the rocket has a 50 percent chance of reaching orbit on its first attempt.

Chronicling a historic mission to the Moon

Professional photographer Karim Iliya was selected as one of nine crew members for the dearMoon mission, which will also include space YouTuber Everyday Astronaut as well as DJ and producer Steve Aoki. 

Iliya, who grew up in the Middle East and Asia, says his experience taking photographs in remote, isolated, and underwater locations will help him on the upcoming Moon journey.

Professionally, he has won awards – from the BBC and National Geographic, among others – for his work documenting the natural world in a bid to aid ocean conservation.

Photographer describes dearMoon Starship selection as 'ultimate dream'
An artist's impression of the spacesuit the dearMoon crew will wear.

Though these experiences will help Iliya as he travels through space on the week-long dearMoon mission, he is still digesting the fact he was selected to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere.

"I spend so much time trying to document our planet in little pieces," Iliya told IE. "Photographing the Earth from space is the ultimate dream. I hope that it will help me do a better job of telling the story. I still can't believe it."

Ultimately, the photographer says his excitement outweighs any fears he might have over going into space. "Right now, [the fear factor] is a 1 out of 10, though when we strap into the rocket I imagine that number will go up." Thankfully, though, "space travel is also much safer than it was in the early days."

What will the dearMoon crew do during their trip around the Moon?

Though the dearMoon team hasn’t posted much information regarding the day-to-day routine their crew will experience on their trip around the Moon, we do have some indication of what will  be in store.

That's partly down to the fact that Maezawa, who has a net worth of roughly $2 billion, has actually been in space before. Last year, he flew to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket. During the 11 days he spent aboard the orbital station, Maezawa ticked a number of tasks off a list, including playing golf and ping pong and throwing paper airplanes aboard the ISS.

While Maezawa hasn’t indicated whether he intends to play a few holes while orbiting the far side of the Moon, he may have a similar checklist to the one he took to the ISS. Ultimately, though, the dearMoon mission is focused on drawing inspiration from a trip to our celestial neighbor as well as enabling accomplished artists to inspire a wide audience back on Earth.

For his part, Iliya explained that he will be utilizing his professional photography skills throughout the journey. "I will be photographing and filming the trip, working with the other crew members to help tell the story of this amazing journey," Iliyia told IE. "As well as looking out the window, at our planet, the Moon, and the vastness of space, I will also focus on capturing the other crew members before, during, and after the trip."

"I try to photograph and document as many aspects of life as I can, to get a full picture and try to tell a story through images," Iliya continued. "My goal is to capture the beauty of our planet so that we may do a better job taking care of each other, and all life here on Earth."

Iliya will go down in history as one of the first-ever crew members on a mission aboard Starship, a rocket that is eventually expected to land on the Moon and take humans to Mars. He will also be one of the first space explorers whose mission directive will be a purely artistic one – to change perspectives here on Earth by highlighting the fragility and beauty of the blue orb we call home.

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