SpaceX on Monday who will take the first private flight to the moon. His name is Yusaku Maezawa. You may not have heard of him before, but if SpaceX has its way, you're going to be hearing as much about him as Neil Armstrong.
So who is he?
Who is Yusaku Maezawa?
Yusaku Maezawa, 42, is a Japanese billionaire entrepreneur and founder of Zozotown, Japan's largest online fashion retailer. Now, he's also slated to be the first private citizen to go to the moon.
At Monday's SpaceX reveal, Maezawa said he was once a skateboarder and fascinated by American culture. After six months in the US, he headed back to Japan and started to play the drums in a band before founding a mail order business called Start Today in 1998. Two years later, he took the business online.
His band, Switch Style, found some success with its hard and fast punk rock. In an interview with the Japan Times, he noted he was the president of his own company while touring with the band until Start Today's success grew to a point where he couldn't do both. He decided to quit the band and forge forward with his online business.
In 2004, he launched online fashion retailer Zozotown and recently announced a made-to-measure bodysuit service as part of the ZOZO brand, known as the Zozosuit. The suit allows people to ensure the clothes they order online fit perfectly before they arrive.
Orders for the suit were so popular that they well-exceeded production capacity. Last fiscal year, Zozotown's sales topped $76 billion.
Forbes' most recent rich list has Maezawa as Japan's 18th richest person, with an estimated worth of $2.7 billion and the 59th richest person in tech. In the wake of Monday's announcement that he would be headed to the moon, Start Today's stock price jumped, before settling again.
Beyond his business interests, Maezawa is a noted art collector, having spent millions of dollars on valuable art works since acquiring his billions. One of his most expensive pieces was painted by Jean-Michel Basquiat and acquired at an art auction in 2016 for a record-breaking price at the time: $57.3 million. The following year, he bought another Basquiat piece for a cool $110.5 million -- breaking his own record for one of the artist's works.
In 2012, Maezawa founded the Contemporary Art Foundation, which aims to popularize and improve knowledge and education of contemporary art. It provides grants to young artists and musicians. Maezawa plans to open an art museum in his hometown of Chiba, Japan.
Why does he want to go to the moon?
Maezawa's interest in the arts is one of the key driving factors in his reasoning to head to the moon. His mission is called #dearmoon, and at the announcement of his participation, a slick video was produced highlighting Maezawa's idea.
Essentially, #dearmoon is a civilian art project that Maezawa hopes will inspire those who remain on Earth. Maezawa will take six to eight artists to space with him on the first Big Falcon Rocket, built by SpaceX. Those artists will get a free ride with Maezawa, but when they return to Earth, he hopes they will create art projects based on their time in lunar orbit. He plans to include painters, photographers, musicians, film directors, fashion designers and architects, among other roles.
"I choose to go to the moon with artists," Maezawa said Monday. His vision came to him when staring at one of Jean-Michel Basquiat's paintings. "One day when I was staring at his painting, I was wondering, what if Basquiat had gone to space? What wonderful masterpiece would he have created?" Maezawa said.
"I could not pass up this opportunity to see the moon up close and at the same time I did not want to have such a fantastic experience by myself," he said. "That would be lonely. I don't like being alone. I want to share this experience and things."
Sadly for Maezawa, Basquiat passed away in 1988. A number of other inspiring artists Maezawa credited, including Michael Jackson and Coco Chanel, have also passed. But he wondered what works they could create, had they visited the moon.
For now, he hasn't decided on which artists he will reach out to and include on the inaugural flight.
At the SpaceX announcement, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk made it clear that this was a dangerous mission. Maezawa nodded along as Musk discussed the risks.
"He is the bravest person -- and the most willing to do so -- and he was the best adventurer I think. He stepped forward to do it. To be clear, we are honored that he would choose us. This is not us choosing him," Musk said at the announcement Monday.
"When you're pushing the frontier, it's not a sure thing. There's a chance that something could go wrong."
Maezawa ended his short presentation at Monday's announcement with a simple request to any of the artists he reaches out to in the future: "Please say yes, if you will hear from me."
How much did he pay to go to the moon?
Currently, SpaceX isn't disclosing how much Maezawa is paying to book out an entire rocket to the moon. Maezawa did confirm he has made a down-payment for his place -- and the place of other artists -- on the rocket.
"It will have a material effect on paying for the BFR," Musk stated Monday. "He puts his money where his mouth is."
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