A Japanese billionaire purchased a trip around the moon on SpaceX's yet-to-be-complete Big Falcon Rocket and plans to bring eight artists from around the world with him on the trip to create art inspired by the lunar surface.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced Monday that Yusaku Maezawa, 42, was the mystery paying customer behind the Big Falcon Rocket. The rocket and spaceship are still years away from flight. Musk said the paid moon mission could happen as soon as 2023, after several test flights without crew onboard. However, Musk also said he was "pretty not sure" about that timeline, because "things do not go right in reality."
SpaceX declined to put a dollar amount on the deal and Maezawa also said he couldn't reveal the number. Musk said it will help toward development of the BFR program. The SpaceX founder estimated the cost of developing the launch vehicle to be between $5 and $10 billion.
Musk said it was Maezawa who picked SpaceX for his spaceflight and described him as "a very brave person."
SpaceX didn’t provide many details ahead of the announcement Monday made from the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, California. However, Musk used social media to drop hints ahead of the announcement. His tweet of a Japanese flag emoji fueled spot-on speculation that the mystery passenger is a Japanese businessperson.
According to Forbes, Maezawa is the 18th wealthiest person in Japan. His current net worth is $2.9 billion. He founded Japan's largest mall, Zozo Town. Maezawa is also an avid art collector and plans to bring that love to the moon with him. With Clair de Lune playing during the announcement, Maezawa explained his love affair with the moon started as a young boy. He plans to invite eight artists from around the world to come with him on the trip around the moon as part of his world art project "Dear Moon." The weeklong spaceflight will be free for Maezawa's invited artists.
These artists will be asked to create something inspired by their moon trip when they return to Earth. He hasn't decided who he will invite yet, but said he wants them to represent a diverse span of arts including painting, music, design and fashion.
"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," Maezawa said in a post on Instagram. "I hope that this project will inspire the dreamer within all of us. Together with Earth's top artists, I will be heading to the moon ... just a little earlier than everyone else."
The last time astronauts orbited—not landed—on the moon was during the Apollo 13 mission in 1970. The Apollo 13 planned moon landing was diverted due to an explosion on the spacecraft, and the three crew members were forced to instead fly by their intended target and return home. Two years later would mark the last time NASA astronauts would visit the lunar surface.
Musk showed off new renderings of the BFR, including changes to the spaceship's landing legs, which are made up of three wings. Two will help steer the spacecraft and the third, a top "fin" doesn't move, but it just functions as a landing leg.
Landing in the Big Falcon Spaceship is "guaranteed to be exciting" Musk said; the spacecraft will fall body first at terminal velocity for quite a while, then the rocket rights itself and lands.
Read everything we know about the BFR and its spaceship design here. The fully reusable BFR is designed for trips around Earth, to Mars and beyond. According to Musk, the spaceship could shuttle about 100 passengers to the red planet.
The BFR will eventually replace Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, but not until all of SpaceX's customers are on board, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in April.
Musk said on Twitter that SpaceX's contracts with NASA remain a top priority, including the commercial crew program to shuttle NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
Shotwell estimated that the BFR will launch within a decade. The vehicle is currently under development at the Los Angeles Port.
Check back for updates during and after the announcement.
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