SpaceX’s First Tourists Will Fly Around the Moon for Free Thanks to Japanese Billionaire

See who's the first space tourist to ride SpaceX's BFR.
  • SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space company, is offering space travel to regular civilians.
  • Japanese billionaire entrepreneur and art collector Yusaku Maezawa will be SpaceX’s first commercial passenger.
  • Musk has set 2022 as the date for an unpiloted trip to Mars.

Elon Musk’s private space company, SpaceX, announced on Sept. 17, 2018, that its first astrotourist on its massive Big Falcon Rocket will be Japanese entrepeneur and art collector Yusaku Maezawa. Musk said they would not disclose how much Maezawa had paid SpaceX for the journey, but they said that Maezawa bought the seats for the entire flight, not just one for himself, and Maezawa detailed his plan for taking six to eight artists with him on the flight.

Maezawa did say that he had already made a down payment but would not disclose the amount. Musk called it a “significant price” that would have “material impact to the BFR program.”

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Who Is Yusaku Maezawa?

Maezawa is the founder of fashion label Zozo and has a net worth of $2.9 billion, according to Forbes. During the SpaceX webcast, he announced the launch of his project DearMoon.Earth, in which he’ll choose the following types of artists to join him on the 240,000-mile, week-long trip to the moon scheduled for 2023:

  • Painter
  • Photographer
  • Film director
  • Musician
  • Fashion designer
  • Architect

Maezawa, who said he has loved art since he was a skateboarding teenager and loved the moon since childhood, wants his project Dear Moon and the artists who go to the moon with him to create art that will inspire generations and promote world peace. The Dear Moon website and #DearMoon launched at the conclusion of the webcast.

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If Pablo Picasso had been able to see the moon up-close, what kind of paintings would he have drawn? If John Lennon could have seen the curvature of the Earth, what kind of songs would he have written? If they had gone to space, how would the world have looked today? People are creative and have a great imagination. We all have the ability to dream dreams that have never been dreamt, to sing songs that have never been sung, to paint that which has never been seen before. I hope that this project will inspire the dreamer within each of us. Together with Earth's top artists, I will be heading to the moon… just a little earlier than everyone else. I am truly blessed by this opportunity to become Host Curator of “#dearMoon”. I would like to thank Elon Musk and SpaceX for creating the opportunity to go around the moon in their BFR. I would also like to thank all those who have continuously supported me. I vouch to make this project a success. Stay tuned!
A post shared by #dearMoon (@dearmoonproject) on

“[The moon] is always there and has inspired humanity,” said Maezawa. “I don’t like being alone, so I want to share this experience with as many people as possible. I choose to go to the moon with artists.”

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“He chose us,” said Musk when a reporter asked why SpaceX chose Maezawa. “He is the bravest person and best adventurer. He stepped forward to do it. We’re honored that he would choose us. Because he is paying a lot of money — we’re not disclosing the amount — that will help develop the BFR … to carry anyone to Mars, he is essentially paying for anyone to be able to travel to other planets,” said Musk.

During the question-and-answer period with reporters following the webcast, Musk joked that maybe Maezawa would invite him to join the crew going to the moon, too.

How Much Will the BFR Cost to Build?

Musk said that most of SpaceX’s funds are dedicated to current projects, such as satellites and servicing the Space Station.

“Less than 5 percent of SpaceX’s resources are currently spent on BFR. That will change significantly in years to come,” said Musk. He said the estimated cost of the BFR is between $5 billion and $10 billion.

His ultimate goal is to go to Mars. The BFR designs include features to be able to land and take off on any planet’s surface without having to build a launch pad on that other planet.

Click to read Elon Musk’s essential tips for aspiring entrepreneurs.

One thing is almost certain: Future paying passengers will need to be ridiculously wealthy. The price for a single seat on the 100-person rocket intended to explore the moon is estimated to cost in excess of $35 million. For the inaugural passenger, it’s a massive price to pay for an adventure with no definite launch date yet.

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Plans for the BFR were first announced in 2016, but even with Musk’s notoriously aggressive timelines, the rocket is still a ways away from launching into orbit. Nevertheless, Musk hopes for an unpiloted Mars trip in 2022, with a crewed flight to follow in 2024. He said several unmanned test flights will take place before any passengers are sent to the moon or Mars.

Musk Credits Space Station Contract for Fueling SpaceX’s Success

During the webcast, Musk noted how far and how quickly SpaceX has come since its first flight in orbit in September 2008. “In 10 years, [from] barely able to orbit to now with the most powerful rocket by a factor of two … How many people would predicted in 2008 that SpaceX would be able to do these things by 2018?” said Musk. “I would have said this is unlikely.”

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SpaceX, with its valuation at an estimated $28 billion, leads the civilian space race. Musk credited SpaceX’s first successful orbit in 2008 and its contract servicing the Space Station as essential to SpaceX’s success today. But Musk isn’t the only billionaire with his attention focused on the final frontier.

Musk Faces Competition From Branson and Bezos

If the depths of space beckon your name, a space plane flight option via Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic fits the bill. You won’t travel on a rocket, but you will hear space’s deafening silence, experience about five minutes of weightlessness and catch a glimpse of the Earth’s curvature, all for significantly less than what Musk is charging. Rumored to cost $250,000, a trip on Virgin Galactic seems like a bargain.

The lid on Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin is often kept shut, but the private space company announced the development of a 60-foot-tall rocket that will bring six passengers into space on a luxury rocket. No word on the price, but based on successful test launches earlier this year, the company said a maiden voyage is possible for 2018.

Click to keep reading about 10 things Elon Musk doesn’t want you know about him.

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Stephanie Barbaran contributed to the reporting for this article.