Japanese tycoon arrives at ISS as Russia resumes space tourism
Baikonur, Kazakhstan – A Japanese billionaire arrived at the International Space Station on Wednesday, marking Russia’s return to space tourism after a decade-long hiatus that saw rising competition from the United States.
Online fashion mogul Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant Yozo Hirano took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan earlier on Wednesday.
They docked with the Poisk module of the Russian segment of the ISS at 1340 GMT, the Russian space agency said.
A live feed from Roscosmos showed the hatch of the Soyuz MS-20 capsule opened at 4:11 p.m. GMT, showing Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin entering the ISS, followed by Maezawa and Hirano, the first private Japanese citizens to visit the space from the journey of journalist Toyohiro Akiyama. to the Mir space station in 1990.
Their trip aboard the three-person Soyuz spacecraft piloted by cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin lasted just over six hours, capping a banner year that many have seen as a turning point for private space travel.
On launch day, Maezawa and his crew left their hotel in Baikonur to a Soviet-era song played for all cosmonauts before their flights. The song, about cosmonauts missing at home, was sung partially in Japanese.
Maezawa’s family and friends – some holding Japanese flags – waved him off as he was driven away to have his spacesuit adjusted.
“Dream comes true,” the mogul tweeted Wednesday morning.
Fellow billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have all made groundbreaking commercial tourist flights this year, entering a market Russia is keen to defend.
The trio will spend 12 days on the station. Japanese tourists plan to document their daily life aboard the space station to share on Maezawa’s popular YouTube channel.
The 46-year-old billionaire has set out 100 tasks to complete on board, including organizing a badminton tournament in orbit.
The space station is home to an international crew of seven, including two Russian cosmonauts and a Japanese astronaut.
Maezawa, who is a space enthusiast, also plans to take eight people with him on a 2023 mission around Musk’s SpaceX-operated moon.
Before its layoff, Russia used to take self-funded tourists into space.
In partnership with the American company Space Adventures, the space agency Roscosmos has taken eight tourists to the space station since 2001, including one twice.
The last was Canadian Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberté in 2009, who became the first clown in space. In October, Russia launched its first untrained cosmonauts into space since that trip, bringing a Russian actress and director to the space station where they filmed scenes for the first movie in orbit.
Moscow had stopped sending tourists into space after NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011, leaving Russia with a monopoly on supplying the space station.
NASA purchased all Soyuz launch seats for $90 million per seat, effectively ending tourist flights.
But that all changed last year when a SpaceX spacecraft successfully delivered its first astronauts to the space station.
NASA began buying flights from SpaceX, stripping Russia of its monopoly and costing its cash-strapped space agency millions of dollars in revenue.
Although the cost of space tickets for tourists has not been disclosed, Space Adventures said it is between $50 million and $60 million.
Roscosmos said it plans to continue expanding its space tourism business, already ordering two Soyuz rockets for such trips.
The agency also announces a spacewalk to be performed by a tourist during a trip to a space station in 2023.
But Roscosmos also faces competition from SpaceX in space tourism.
Earlier this year, a Crew Dragon capsule flew an all-civilian mission on a three-day trip around Earth orbit in a historic first.
Also hot on the heels of Russia are Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which completed their first tourist trip this year.
Although the flights of these companies do not go into orbit, they offer several minutes of weightlessness without requiring months of training and at a significantly lower cost.
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