By Eric M. Johnson and Sam Nussey
HAWTHORNE, Calif./TOKYO (Reuters) – SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space transportation company, on Monday named its first private passenger on a voyage around the moon as Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, the founder and chief executive of online fashion retailer Zozo.
A former drummer in a punk band, Maezawa is tentatively planning to make his moon flight in 2023 aboard SpaceX’s forthcoming Big Falcon Rocket spaceship, taking the race to commercialize space travel to new heights.
Only 24 astronauts have flown beyond Earth’s protective magnetic shield, in missions spanning a four-year period from December 1968 to December 1972. Maezawa’s identity was revealed at an event on Monday evening at the company’s headquarters and rocket factory in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne.
“He’s a very brave person to do this,” Musk said of the Japanese entrepreneur.
Most famous outside Japan for his record-breaking $110 million purchase of an untitled 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, Maezawa said he would invite six to eight artists to join him on the lunar flyby.
The billionaire chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Inc, Musk said the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR, the super heavy-lift launch vehicle that he promises will shuttle passengers to the moon and eventually fly humans and cargo to Mars, could be conducting its first orbital flights in two to three years.
Musk has previously said he wants the rocket to be ready for an unpiloted trip to Mars in 2022, with a crewed flight in 2024, though his ambitious production targets have been known to slip.
“It’s not 100 percent certain we can bring this to flight,” Musk said of the lunar mission.
The amount Maezawa is paying for the trip was not disclosed, but he told Reuters the total sum was “much higher” than the cost of a Basquiat painting.
Musk said Maezawa had outlaid a significant deposit and would have a material impact on the cost of developing the BFR, which he estimated at about $5 billion.
The 42-year-old Maezawa is one of Japan’s most colorful executives and is a regular fixture in the country’s gossipy weeklies with his collection of foreign and Japanese art, fast cars and celebrity girlfriend.
Maezawa made his fortune by founding the wildly popular shopping site Zozotown. His company, Zozo, officially called Start Today Co Ltd, also offers a made-to-measure service using a polka dot bodysuit, the Zozosuit..
In a country known for its staid corporate culture, the businessman is one of a small group of mould-breaking billionaires widely recognized by the general public.
With SpaceX, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic battling it out to launch private-sector spacecraft, Maezawa will join a growing list of celebrities and the ultra-rich who have secured seats on flights offered on the under-development vessels.
Those who have signed up to fly on Virgin Galactic sub-orbital missions include actor Leonardo DiCaprio and pop star Justin Bieber. A 90-minute flight costs $250,000.
Short sightseeing trips to space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket are likely to cost around $200,000 to $300,000, at least to start, Reuters reported in July.
These trips were not attractive given the limited amount of time spent in zero-gravity, Maezawa told Reuters.
“If I’m going to go to space, I’d rather go as far as I can,” he said.
FLY ME TO THE MOON
Maezawa has already shown his penchant for fast machines, splashing out on vehicles including the Bugatti Chiron sports car and the Mercedes-Maybach G650 Landaulet SUV. And last month he tweeted that his new jet’s interior is being fashioned by luxury label Hermes.
He is also looking to acquire his own baseball team, telling Reuters an announcement could come this year – a move that would mark Zozo’s place in the corporate big leagues along with team-owning tech giants such as SoftBank and Rakuten.
While space flight is a more risky proposition – with Maezawa in his late 40s by 2023 – he said there are no training plans yet in place.
“SpaceX is going to be doing many, many test flights to ensure safety and we will wait for that to happen before we go,” Maezawa told Reuters.
Zozo shares fell as much as 4.7 percent and closed down 2.4 percent. Still, a jaunt around the moon would provide publicity for Zozo, which has ambitious overseas sales targets to be driven by its custom-made private clothing line.
The diminutive Maezawa, who as a young man struggled to find clothes that fit, hopes to revolutionize the fashion industry through his Zozosuit, which, once donned, allows users to upload their body measurements and order a growing number of made-to-measure items.
SpaceX has already upended the space industry with its relatively low-cost reusable Falcon 9 rockets. The company has completed more than 50 successful Falcon launches and snagged billions of dollars’ worth of contracts, including deals with NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense.
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.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Los Angeles and Sam Nussey in Tokyo; editing by Leslie Adler and Richard Pullin)