SpaceX: Japanese billionaire first tourist to fly to moon

Elon Musk and Yusaku Maezawa the self-made tycoon said he had always dreamt of going to the moon. He plans to take eight artists along for the ride

On Tuesday Maezawa joined Elon Musk at SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California, to announce he will be the first tourist to be taken around the moon on SpaceX's Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which is expected to launch in 2023.

Maezawa was one of the two people who had paid a deposit to become the first to fly around the moon, Musk said Monday, noting that SpaceX's ambitious exploration plans required the company "to seek every possible means for funding" the development of BFR.

While he might not be a household name in the West, he is famous in his own country as the founder of the Amazon-like shopping portal Zozotown, Japan's largest online retailer.

The new strategy is to still fly around the moon, but using an even bigger SpaceX rocket still in development that has its own dedicated passenger ship. SpaceX's other major venture thus far, the Falcon Heavy, which is a reusable heavy lift launch vehicle, took almost twice as long to complete than expected. "And I wish very much that such artists could go to space, see the moon up close, and the Earth in full view, and create works that reflect their experience".

It also aims to build a staffed gateway near the moon during the 2020s. The outpost would serve as a stepping-off point for the lunar surface, Mars and points beyond.

Forbes ranks Maezawa as the 18th richest person in Japan. In 2012, he started the Tokyo-based Contemporary Art Foundation to support young artists.

For the time being, Musk has made a decision to stick with the plan of launching the vehicle called Crew Dragon minus the passengers on board. Yusaku, however, declined to reveal the figures that he paid for the flight, but the trip will be free-of-cost for the artists that go with him. If those tests go well, the first flight to Earth orbit could occur two to three years from now, Musk said.

Boeing Co. and SpaceX have contracts with NASA to fly the agency's astronauts to the International Space Station as part of what's known as the Commercial Crew Program.

When asked about Boeing Co CEO Dennis Muilenburg's prediction that the first humans will be carried to Mars on a Boeing rocket, Musk responded, "Game on", to the sound of cheers from employees assembled at the event.

Musk's successes have recently been overshadowed by his behavior and the struggles of his Tesla electric vehicle company to deliver.

SpaceX has not talked much about putting private citizens in space since February 2017. And last month he tweeted that his new jet's interior is being fashioned by luxury label Hermes.

The British diver, Vernon Unsworth, sued Musk for defamation on Monday and is seeking more than $75,000.

He has alleged that a cave diver in Thailand who helped rescue stranded boys was a "pedo", smoked what appeared to be marijuana on a comedian's podcast, spooked Tesla investors with comments about the future of the electric auto maker, and admitted to exhaustion and use of the sleeping pill Ambien.

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