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Japanese Billionaire Launches to the ISS Aboard a Soyuz Rocket

And he will also be the first space tourist to go to the moon in 2023.

Japanese Billionaire Launches to the ISS Aboard a Soyuz Rocket
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Japanese billionaire and entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa is on his way to the International Space Station (ISS), after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard Russia's Soyuz MS-20 crew ship today, December 8, at 2:38 am ET (07:38 GMT).

"Dream come true," the entrepreneur tweeted before boarding the three-seat Soyuz spacecraft that would launch him up into orbit. He is joined by Russian cosmonaut and pilot Alexander Misurkin and film producer Yozo Hirano, who will document the expedition for Maezawa's YouTube channel.

A 'dream' mission for Yuzaku Maezawa

Once the Soyuz crew arrives at the space station, Maezawa has a list of activities he wants to carry out in space, including playing golf. The Japanese billionaire, who made his fortune through e-commerce companies including fashion firm Zozotown, will spend 11 days at the ISS, before returning back to Earth. He is the first space tourist to launch to the ISS in recent years.

All of this is, in part, to help Maezawa prepare to become the first-ever space tourist to lunar orbit with his and SpaceX's dearMoon project, which will see him launch to the moon aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in 2023. Mainly though, it is a fulfillment of Maezawa's lifelong ambition to go to space.

Japanese Billionaire Launches to the ISS Aboard a Soyuz Rocket
Yusaku Maezawa is looking for eight people to join him on his lunar expedition in 2023. Source: Yusaku Maezawa/Twitter

"I feel like an elementary school student about to go on an outing," Maezawa told reporters prior to launch. "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 fulfill my dream."

The maverick billionaire has rubbed shoulders with space billionaire Elon Musk, was once a drummer in a punk band, and last year, he started a TV show aimed around finding him a new girlfriend to join him in space — though it was later canceled. Maezawa also announced in March that he is looking for eight people to join him on his trip to the moon, without cost, though they preferably have to be artists who will document the voyage through art.

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To prepare for the ISS expedition, Maezawa had to undergo a stringent training program before launch, which included sleeping on an inclined bed and being spun around endlessly in a chair. The Japanese billionaire likened the latter to "torture" on social media, where he also shared images of the training process. 

A growing list of space billionaires

Maezawa's space expedition will cost the entrepreneur $88 million, according to the BBC, and Elon Musk has previously estimated that the dearMoon project will cost SpaceX $5 billion to complete. The ISS expedition comes hot on the heels of billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos riding up into space over the summer. Unlike Maezawa, however, Branson and Bezos launched up to suborbital space — and Bezos' Blue Origin bickered about the Kármán Line while they were at it.

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Both Blue Origin and Branson's Virgin Galactic expeditions last less than half an hour in total, meaning that Maezawa is in for more of an authentic astronaut experience. In fact, the FAA recently changed its rules, meaning neither Branson nor Bezos can be officially classified as astronauts.

Japanese Billionaire Launches to the ISS Aboard a Soyuz Rocket
The Soyuz MS-20 crew ship at launch. Source: Roscosmos

The first-ever space billionaire was Dennis Tito, who also launched aboard a Soyuz rocket chartered by space tourist firm Space Adventures, on April 28, 2001. With Maezawa's launch today, he becomes the eighth billionaire to launch to space. 

Russia's space program Roscosmos, meanwhile, also sent the first film director, Klim Shipenko, and actor, Yulia Peresild, to the ISS in October, beating NASA and SpaceX's plans to launch Tom Cruise to the station for an upcoming movie shoot. Though space tourism might not be making orbital expeditions accessible to the masses, at least we can experience space vicariously through to the social media and YouTube channels of the stratospherically wealthy.

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