A Japanese billionaire took off on Wednesday (8) in a Russian spacecraft to begin a 12-day period aboard the International Space Station (ISS), a trip that marks Moscow’s return to tourism in orbit.
Russia has lost ground in this lucrative sector, which has been revitalized with the involvement of US private companies such as SpaceX or Blue Origin.
Eccentric Yusaku Maezawa, 46, an internet fashion mogul, and his assistant Yozo Hirano took off from the Baikonur base in Kazakhstan at 7:38 GMT (4:38 GMT), as scheduled.
The estimated duration of the flight is six hours, and the coupling to the Poisk module of the Russian segment of the ISS should take place at 13:41 GMT (10:41 GMT).
During the night, the billionaire, his assistant and cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, who pilots the Soyuz spacecraft, left the hotel to the sound of a traditional Soviet song that is played for all cosmonauts before takeoff.
“Dreams come true,” tweeted the Japanese businessman.
“I’m as excited as a child before a school trip,” Maezawa said during a press conference on Tuesday (7).
Cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin explained that his fellow travelers will have an intense schedule. Among the activities planned is a “friendly” badminton tournament.
The billionaire has prepared a list of 100 activities he wants to do in space and intends to document his stay on the ISS with videos posted on his YouTube channel.
Before the mission, Maezawa and his assistant underwent training in the City of Stars, an area built on the outskirts of Moscow in the 1960s to train cosmonauts.
There are currently seven people aboard the ISS, including two Russians and one Japanese.
A Japanese tourist’s previous trip to space took place in 1990, when a journalist entered the Mir Soviet station.
The lucrative sector of private space flights gained traction with the entry of American billionaires Elon Musk (SpaceX) and Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin), as well as the British Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic).
In September, SpaceX organized a three-day flight into orbit with a non-astronaut crew. It also plans to transport tourists around the Moon in 2023, including Maezawa, who finances the operation.
After a decade of interruption, Wednesday’s flight marks the return of the Russian space agency Roscosmos to space tourism, despite the country’s aerospace industry suffering from cases of corruption and technical and financial difficulties.
In 2020, with the SpaceX capsules going into operation, Russia lost its monopoly on manned flights to the ISS and the tens of millions of dollars that NASA and other agencies paid for every seat aboard a Soyuz.
The mission with the two Japanese was organized by Roscosmos in collaboration with the American company Space Adventures. Between 2001 and 2009, the two companies took businessmen to the space on eight occasions.
A sign of the Russian space industry’s desire for renewal, Roscosmos sent a director and an actress to the ISS in October to shoot the first feature film in orbit in history, ahead of a similar project planned by American actor Tom Cruise.