Elon Musk Names Japanese Billionaire Yusaku Maezawa As First Tourist On SpaceX's BFR

Elon Musk and Yusaku Maezawa at a SpaceX event on Monday. (Photo: Chris Carlson, AP)

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced the first paying tourist that the company plans to fly around the moon on a 386,243km journey on its promised Big Falcon Rocket (BFR)—and it’s Japanese billionaire, founder of online fashion giant Zozo, and art collector Yusaku Maezawa.

At a SpaceX event on Monday in Los Angeles, Musk did not clarify how much Maezawa would pay for the journey, according to TechCrunch. But Maezawa’s net worth is estimated at just shy of three billion by Forbes, and Musk said the fashion magnate’s deposit for the trip was “significant,” i.e. likely in the tens or even hundreds of millions.

“He’s paying a lot of money that would help with the ship and its booster,” Musk told the crowd. “He’s ultimately paying for the average citizen to travel to other planets.”

Maezawa referred to the future launch as the outcome of a “life long dream” and told attendees, “I choose to go to the moon!”

Per the Verge, Musk also showed off another revision to the BFR, stating that the new design would have seven instead of six large Raptor engines, boast additional cargo room on the rocket’s bottom, and have three instead of two rear fins as well as front actuator fins. Musk has loudly touted the potential for the BFR to lead interplanetary colonization efforts; the Verge wrote Musk said the updated design is a roughly 117.96m-long (118 meter) two-stage vessel capable of carrying 100 metric tons of cargo to a theoretical future Mars colony if refueled in orbit.

Musk described the first two tests as happening within two to three years, according to the Washington Post, and Maezawa’s launch date as sometime in 2023. Most of the work done so far has been on the spacecraft component rather than the rocket side.

Of course, the craft is very far from completion and Musk has repeatedly set aspirational timelines for its development that never panned out, so this is all more or less conceptual.

According to the New York Times, Maezawa “may be best known” for his $US110 ($154) million purchase of a 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat painting of a skull, a sum that his sister Lisane Basquiat referred to as leaving the family “speechless.” Maezawa explained his intent to bring along five to eight artists on the trip, the paper added, as part of a project to create art in space named Dear Moon.

Musk also clarified that Maezawa was one of two passengers originally slated to fly into space on board the Falcon Heavy, a project cancelled in June as upgrades to SpaceX’s line of smaller Falcon 9 rockets increasingly made their heftier counterpart less economically viable. As the Times noted, the Falcon Heavy has undergone only one live test and SpaceX no longer plans to certify it for human flight. It’s unclear whether it has a future. The company’s Space Dragon crew capsule, which is intended to take astronauts to the International Space Station, missed an initial target date of 2017 and won’t see a manned test until 2019.

The Atlantic wrote Musk said there will be multiple tests of the BFR before it goes into operation:

Musk said SpaceX would conduct several uncrewed test launches of the BFR. The moon trip would last four to five days, he said. After launch, the BFR will make several course corrections and complete one loop around the moon before returning to Earth, where it will land upright, in a manoeuvre SpaceX has pioneered with its Falcon 9 rockets. “This will look really epic in person,” Musk said.

Unlike Musk’s Tesla, SpaceX has avoided most of the CEO’s self-inflicted controversies (including a defamation lawsuit, ill-advised tweets, and personal drama). As the Post noted, it’s been remarkably successful with “34 straight successful rocket launches over the last 20 months” and a “massive backlog of commercial launch contracts.” But it’s not clear that all the pomp and circumstance will end up reflecting reality.

“I would caution against making too much of an announcement about a circumlunar flight,” former NASA chief historian Roger Launius told the Daily Beast. “It might happen, it might not. There has been a lot of hype about what is going to happen in space, and then we see little change as time passes.”

[New York Times/Washington Post/The Verge]