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Japanese billionaire doubles down on space tours

For some people, once is not enough when it comes to traveling to space — even if each trip costs tens of millions of dollars. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is apparently one of those people.

Virginia-based Space Adventures announced today that Maezawa and his production assistant, Yozo Hirano, will be taking a 12-day trip to the International Space Station, and documenting the adventure for Maezawa’s YouTube channel.

The Japanese pair will fly to the station and back aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that’s due for launch on Dec. 8, under the command of Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin. All the medical checks have been made, and the trio is due to begin about three months of training at Russia’s Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City in June, Space Adventures said.

“I’m so curious, ‘what’s life like in space?'” Maezawa said in Space Adventures’ news release. “I am planning to find out on my own and share with the world on my YouTube channel.”

Maezawa made his fortune by founding an online clothing business called Zozo, and then selling a $2.3 billion stake to Yahoo! Japan in 2019. He’s known for collecting artwork including a $110.5 million Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, and for running giveaways on Twitter.

Maezawa has also put tens of millions of dollars toward a trip around the moon in a SpaceX Starship craft, in the company of a crew that he’s in the process of selecting. That #dearMoon mission is currently set for 2023.

Last year, Maezawa planned a reality-TV contest to choose a female companion for the round-the-moon trip — but he quickly gave up on that idea and apologized to the 27,722 women who applied.

His choice of a companion for the trip to the International Space Station is strictly a business matter: Hirano worked for Zozo and serves as a film producer for SpaceToday Inc., which is managing aspects of Maezawa’s #dearMoon project. Hirano will be responsible for documenting Maezawa’s space station mission on video.

Maezawa and Hirano will be the eighth and ninth clients of Space Adventures to take a Russian ride to the space station in the past 20 years. The first client, California investment adviser Dennis Tito, paid somewhere on the order of $20 million for his 2001 trip, but the fare is thought to have tripled or even quadrupled since then.

Twenty years ago, Tito’s trip was extremely controversial. Today there’s a standardized process for accommodating spaceflight participants, or SFPs, who want to visit the space station. And now that SpaceX is flying people to orbit, the market for private-sector spacefliers is opening up after years of scarcity.

“This is the first time two SFPs will fly together, and the first tourist mission to the ISS in a decade,” said Eric Anderson, Space Adventures’ CEO and chairman. (SpaceX is due to send a private-sector crew to orbit in September, followed by a privately funded trip to the space station scheduled for as early as next January.)

Maezawa’s status as SpaceX customer came to light back in 2018. In contrast, his interest in a space station trip wasn’t widely known until today. But Space Adventures spokeswoman Stacey Tearne suggested that the project has been in the works for a while. “Eric has known Mr. Maezawa for several years,” she told me in an email.

Even if Maezawa follows through on the Starship trip as well as the Soyuz trip, he wouldn’t be the first to buy a double dose of spaceflight. Seattle-area software billionaire Charles Simonyi purchased two trips to the space station through Space Adventures, in 2007 and 2009.

Russians pick their star for space movie

Despite Anderson’s comment, the precedent for flying two privately funded travelers to the space station just might be established before Maezawa’s trip. The Russian space agency announced today that a Russian actress and director have been selected to film scenes for a movie aboard the station in October.

After undergoing medical and creative assessments, Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko are on the primary crew for a Soyuz mission due for launch Oct. 5, Roscosmos reported. Alena Mordovina and director Alexey Dudin are on the backup crew.

Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov will be the Soyuz commander.

Yulia Peresild
Yulia Peresild is to star in a space movie. (Photo via Roscosmos)

The actresses were picked from a field of 20 finalists after a months-long competition. They’ll be working on a film titled “Vyzov,” or “Challenge,” which reportedly tells the story of a female surgeon who’s called upon to perform an emergency operation in space. The film project will be the subject of TV coverage by Russia’s Channel One.

“Mission Impossible” star Tom Cruise is also interested in filming a movie on the space station, most likely as part of a deal involving Axiom Space, SpaceX and NASA. But the schedule for private astronaut missions suggests that project couldn’t get off the ground and into orbit for at least a year. So the race to film the first scripted, non-documentary movie in space appears to be one the Russians are poised to win.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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