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Japanese tycoon Maezawa is the latest tourist to visit space

A Soyuz spacecraft carrying the 46-year-old fashion magnate successfully launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome and will reach the ISS in about six hours

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has his spacesuit tested during pre-launch preparations at the Baikonur cosmodrome on December 8, 2021.  (AFP)

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his producer rocketed to space on Wednesday as the first self-paying space tourists in more than a decade.

Fashion tycoon Maezawa and producer Yozo Hirano, who plans to film his mission, blasted off to the International Space Station in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft along with Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin.

Also read: From Richard Branson to Jeff Bezos, space tourism takes flight

The trio lifted off as scheduled at 12:38 p.m. (0738 GMT) aboard Soyuz MS-20 from the Russia-leaded Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan, an Associated Press report explains.

Maezawa and Hirano are scheduled to spend 12 days in space. The two will be the first self-paying tourists to visit the space station since 2009. The price of the trip hasn’t been disclosed.

“I would like to look at the Earth from space. I would like to experience the opportunity to feel weightlessness,” Maezawa said during a pre-flight news conference on Tuesday. “And I also have a personal expectation: I'm curious how the space will change me, how I will change after this space flight.”

The Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft carrying the crew of Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his production assistant Yozo Hirano blasts off to the International Space Station from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on December 8, 2021.
The Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft carrying the crew of Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his production assistant Yozo Hirano blasts off to the International Space Station from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on December 8, 2021. (AFP)

About 20 years ago, Dennis Tito, an investment manager and a businessman from Los Angeles, US became the first so-called space tourist. Others followed soon. Mark Shuttleworth, the British-South African tech entrepreneur (2002), American entrepreneur and scientist Gregory Olsen (2005), and Iranian-American engineer Anousheh Ansari (2006) are just some who have visited the International Space Station over the years on self-funded trips, paying anywhere from $20-35 million. Between 2001-09, seven individuals flew to space through the US space tourism company Space Adventures and the Russian space agency Roscosmos.

A company that organised the flight said Maezawa compiled a list of 100 things to do in space after asking the public for ideas. The list includes “simple things about daily life to maybe some other fun activities, to more serious questions as well,” Space Adventures president Tom Shelley said in an Associated Press report earlier this year.

Maezawa made his fortune in retail fashion, launching Japan's largest online fashion mall, Zozotown.  The tycoon has also booked a flyby around the moon aboard SpaceX founder Elon Musk's Starship that is tentatively scheduled for 2023. He'll be accompanied on that trip by eight contest winners.

Also read: Who's an astronaut as private spaceflight picks up speed?

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