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SpaceX reveals mystery moon passenger, and he's a billionaire

Elon Musk's SpaceX welcomes Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa and an entourage of artists as its first BFR spaceship moon tourists.

SpaceX released this dramatic illustration of its BFR spacecraft with the moon.

SpaceX

Elon Musk's SpaceX has been talking up its plans to shoot tourists around the moon since early 2017. The vision's finally starting to feel a little more real, as Musk announced the company's first paying passenger on Monday.

The deep-pocketed space explorer is Yusaku Maezawa, a 42-year-old Japanese billionaire and founder of online fashion mall Zozotown. (Here's everything you need to know about Maezawa.)

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Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa speaks about his moon mission through SpaceX.

Video screenshot by CNET

Musk previously hinted the passenger for the next-generation BFR (politely known as the Big Falcon Rocket) might be Japanese. 

Maezawa has plenty of money to devote to this moon shot. He famously dropped over $110 million (£84 million, AU$154 million) on a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat in 2017.

"I could not pass up this opportunity to see the moon up close," Maezawa said. He revealed he purchased all available seats for the BFR lunar mission and plans to invite six to eight artists from around the world to go with him. The mission isn't scheduled to launch until 2023. 

Maezawa says he intends to invite artists from different disciplines, including literature, film, visual arts, architecture and fashion. He will ask them to create works based on their experience as part of a project called #dearMoon

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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 Yusaku Maezawa (@yusaku2020) on

SpaceX livestreamed the big news after teasing the announcement last week and calling it "an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space."  

Musk says the moon mission will take four or five days and go through uncrewed tests prior to sending a person out.

Maezawa wouldn't reveal the cost for the tickets, but said he has already put down a deposit that Musk then described as "a non-trivial amount." Musk estimated the BFR development will cost around $5 billion.

Let's keep in mind a private tourist visited the International Space Station in 2002 at a cost of $20 million (£15.2 million, AU$28 million). The price for a SpaceX lunar mission is likely hefty, though Musk pointed out, "It's going to be free for the artists."

Musk touched on one of his favorite themes, a call for humanity to become a multi-planetary civilization, as he kicked off the announcement. "That's the intention of BFR, is to make people excited about the future," he said.     

Musk previously tweeted some updated illustrations of the under-development BFR spacecraft that is expected to carry Maezawa off on the vacation of a lifetime around our lunar neighbor. The new design looks a bit like a streamlined, futuristic version of a NASA space shuttle.

SpaceX reminded us only 24 humans have been to the moon and no one has visited since NASA's final 1972 Apollo mission. The BFR ship won't be making a stopover on the lunar surface, though. The spacecraft is meant to buzz around the moon without landing.

Musk says the BFR will act more like a sky diver than an airplane.

SpaceX

The BFR will be constructed at a SpaceX facility in Los Angeles and is being designed to handle everything from missions to Earth orbit to long-term cargo and crew missions to Mars. 

The system will eventually replace the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, as well as the Dragon spacecraft.   

Musk provided some updates on the production design of the BFR, which will have a 100-ton payload capacity. It will also have seven Raptor engines and forward- and rear-actuated fins that Musk describes as being "like giant wings." 

Musk says SpaceX has already built the first cylinder section of the BFR.

SpaceX's original timeline for the lunar flight aimed for a launch as early as late 2018, but that clearly didn't work out. Space missions are notoriously challenging to get off the planet, and Musk has a track record of being overly optimistic about his SpaceX goals

While space tourism is a splashy endeavour on par with shooting a Tesla into orbit, Musk said on Twitter on Monday, "Top SpaceX priority is and will remain supporting @NASA crewed spaceflight and National Security missions."

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