It’s a tale that’s straight out of a science fiction novel. Billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, joined by his assistant and film producer Yozo Hirano, have just left for space this Wednesday.

The pair are the first paying ‘space tourists’ in over a decade, according to CBS News. Mazawa, who built his fortune by founding Japan’s largest online fashion retailer Zozotown, considers the marvelous flight something of a childhood dream.

“I feel like an elementary school student about to go on an outing,” Maezawa said. “I didn’t think I would be able to go to space. … I feel fortunate to have this opportunity and to finally fulfill my dream.”

According to Space Adventures President Tom Shelley, Maezawa aims to, with the help of Hirano’s Youtube broadcast, ”share the experience of what it means to be in space with the general public.”

 

A Star-bound Holiday

The trip itself was mostly arranged by Virginia-based Space Adventures, in partnership with the Russian space agency Roscosmos. For an undisclosed amount, the two organizations arranged for Maezawa and Hirano to board a Soyuz MS-20/66S spacecraft, piloted by veteran cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin.

Boosted by a Soyuz 2.1a rocket, the spacecraft took off from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan at 2:38 AM EST, leaving behind a stunning display of fire and smoke as it hurtled towards the stars.

At around 8 minutes and 45 seconds later, the booster released the Soyuz ferry ship, while communications antennae and solar panels were unfurled. With a precise, computer-controlled series of rocket maneuvers, the Soyuz lightly made its way to the ISS docking module at 8:40AM.

Dimitri Rogozin, director of Roscosmos, chimed in with a greeting. “Our heartfelt congratulations with the successful docking to the ISS,” he said. “How are our Japanese friends feeling?”

“I’m really fine,” said Maezawa, replying in English – probably through a massive grin.

 

The Mission Ahead

Once safely docked, all crew members assisted with leak checks. Once safety protocols were observed, the crew excitedly welcomed their new Japanese guests.

At the moment, the ISS hosts a wide range of people – there’s the two Japanese tourists, and the men and women of Expedition 66 from earlier this year – including commander Anton Shkaplerov, flanked by his co-cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Mark Vande Hei.

There’s also four astronauts as part of SpaceX and NASA’s collaborative Crew Dragon; NASA’s Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and the European Space Agency’s Matthias Maurer.

 

Maezawa’s Dream

While billionaires can be a bit tone-deaf when it comes to space travel plans, Maezawa seems to be a bit more transparent and down-to-earth.

As we noted before, Maezawa aims to share the wonder of space, and also give ordinary people an idea of what everyday life is like on a space station. This refers to “simple things about daily life to maybe some other fun activities, to more serious questions as well.”

The road doesn’t end here for Maezawa. He’s currently co-planning a chartered flight around the moon, in collaboration with Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Powered by the massive new Starship rocket, Maezawa aims to bring along eight (probably loaded) guests along with him.

“Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the moon,” he mentioned during a 2018 announcement alongside Musk. “Just staring at the moon filled my imagination. That is why I could not pass up this opportunity to see the moon up close.”

Moral of the story? Don’t overthink that weekend trip you’re considering!

(Image Sources: Roscosmo, NASA, Twitter, Yusaku Maezawa)