Japanese billionaire Maezawa will make childhood dream come true with space flight

Baikonur, Kazakhstan, December 7 (Reuters) – Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa said he could barely contain his excitement a day before soaring to the International Space Station as a prelude to a more ambitious trip around the moon with Elon Musk’s SpaceX scheduled for 2023.

The 46-year-old fashion mogul and art collector trained at a space center outside Moscow in recent months before becoming the first space tourist to visit the ISS in more than a decade .

Maezawa will travel aboard a Soyuz spacecraft, which will be launched Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, accompanied by his assistant Yozo Hirano, who will document the trip, and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin.

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Speaking from Baikonur ahead of his 12-day space trip, Maezawa said flying into space was a childhood dream.

“I’m excited. I feel like an elementary school student about to make an outing,” Maezawa said at a press conference. “I didn’t think I could go to space. I loved the starry skies and heavenly bodies. I feel lucky to have this opportunity and finally make my dream come true.”

The billionaire has chronicled his preparations, including demonstrating his spacesuit and piloting a centrifuge, in social media posts, with plans to post more from space.

During his 100 days of training, Maezawa said he enjoyed parabolic flight, where weightlessness is induced for short periods of time on an adapted aircraft, but found it difficult to train in a rotating chair.

The entrepreneur, who wore a blue flight suit with a “world peace” badge, said he struggled to learn Russian to communicate with his coaches and was eager to eat sushi at his back to Earth.

Maezawa will become the first private passenger on SpaceX lunar travel, as commercial companies including Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin usher in a new era of space travel for wealthy clients.

The billionaire, who sold his online fashion business Zozo (3092.T) to SoftBank in 2019, is looking for eight people who will join him on his lunar journey in 2023, forcing applicants to pass medical tests and an interview.

Maezawa has become a household name in Japan thanks to her fondness for private jets and supercars, cash gifts to Twitter followers and famous girlfriends in a country known for its conformist corporate culture.

Maezawa will be the first private Japanese citizen in space since television reporter Toyohiro Akiyama visited the Mir space station in 1990.

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Report by Shamil Zhumatov in Baikonur; Additional reporting by Sam Nussey in Tokyo and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa

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