Blast off! Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa launches to the ISS on a 12-day mission where he hopes to answer questions such as: ‘What happens when you play Pokémon GO in space?’

  • Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has blasted off to the International Space Station on a 12-day mission
  • The 46-year-old tycoon is the founder of Japan’s largest online fashion mall and one of country’s richest men
  • He and his assistant Yozo Hirano launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at about 7:30 GMT
  • They launched on a Soyuz spacecraft emblazoned with Japanese flag and an ‘MZ’ logo for Maezawa’s name

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has blasted off to the International Space Station (ISS) today, where he plans to document his experience for his 750,000 YouTube subscribers. 

The irreverent space enthusiast, who is one of Japan’s richest men, launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at about 7:30 GMT (2:30 ET) accompanied by his assistant and film producer Yozo Hirano. 

The pair will spend 12 days aboard the giant orbiting laboratory, where they plan to answer questions such as ‘Do you move forward when you fart in space?’ and ‘What happens when you play Pokémon GO in space?’

Their three-seat Soyuz spacecraft, emblazoned with the Japanese flag and an ‘MZ’ logo for Maezawa’s name, was moved onto the launchpad on Sunday morning.

‘I am almost crying because of my impressions, this is so impressive,’ Maezawa said in late November, after arriving at Baikonur for the final days of preparation. 

The spacecraft will be piloted by Alexander Misurkin, a 44-year-old Russian cosmonaut who has already been on two missions to the ISS, ending a decade-long pause in Russia’s space tourism programme.

Blast off! Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa (right) has blasted off to the International Space Station today, where he plans to document his experience for his 750,000 YouTube subscribers

The irreverent space enthusiast, who is one of Japan ‘s richest men, launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at about 7:30 GMT (2:30 ET) accompanied by his assistant and film producer Yozo Hirano 

The spacecraft will be piloted by Alexander Misurkin (pictured centre alongside Hirano, left, and Maezawa, right). Misurkin is a 44-year-old Russian cosmonaut who has already been on two missions to the ISS

Maezawa and Hirano have spent the past few months training at Star City, a town outside Moscow that has prepared generations of Soviet and Russian cosmonauts. 

They have been learning how to behave in zero-gravity and specific protocols in the event of an emergency.

Maezawa said that training in the spinning chair ‘almost feels like torture’. 

‘It’s the hardest training ever done,’ he tweeted in late November. 

The cost of the trip is unclear, as the price tag has been kept a secret, although previous customers reportedly paid $20 million to $40 million for flights to the ISS. 

But this is unlikely to make much of a dent in the $1.9 billion net worth Maezawa is estimated to have accumulated through his firm Zozo, previously known as Start Today, which operates Japan’s largest online fashion mall ZOZOTOWN.  

Their three-seat Soyuz spacecraft, emblazoned with the Japanese flag and an ‘MZ’ logo for Maezawa’s name, lifted off today

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa (pictured left) and his assistant Yozo Hirano (right) trained at Star City in Moscow ahead of their expedition to the International Space Station

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is readying for an epic journey to the ISS from today

Maezawa, his assistant Yozo Hirano and back-up participant Shun Ogiso have been training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center outside Moscow. It included floating around in zero-gravity chambers to get the feel of space (pictured)

Being a top ‘space nation’ is a matter of national pride for Russia 

For Russia, retaining its title of a top space nation is a matter of national pride stemming from its Soviet-era achievements amid rivalry with the United States.

The Soviets coined a number of firsts in space: the first satellite, first man in space, first woman in space, first spacewalk, to name just a few.

But in recent years Russia’s space programme has suffered setbacks, including corruption scandals and botched launches, and faced a cut in state funding.

The industry remains reliant on Soviet-designed technology and while new projects have been announced, such as a mission to Venus, their timeline and feasibility remain unclear.

Despite being the country’s 30th-richest person, the 46-year-old tycoon is far from the traditional image of a staid Japanese businessman. 

Maezawa made headlines in 2019 when he launched a search for a female companion to accompany him during a trip around the moon on a SpaceX spacecraft, scheduled to launch in 2023.

But his request was not met, so he changed it to a search for eight artists, asking them to create ‘masterpieces (that) will inspire the dreamer within all of us’.

In March, he announced he was broadening the search beyond artists, and claims to have received one million applications for eight spots on the rocket made by Elon Musk’s firm. 

If SpaceX can pull the trip off, Maezawa and his band of astronauts will become the first lunar voyagers since the last US Apollo mission in 1972.

His Twitter account – its handle a play on his first name: @yousuck2020 – has more than 10 million followers. 

Maezawa has said he is ‘not afraid or worried’ about the his trip to the ISS, and has been soliciting ideas for things he should do in space from his followers.

The billionaire said it doesn’t matter whether the ideas are ‘silly or serious’, he just wanted to give people the chance to participate in his space tourism journey.

He plans to film each of the activities he undertakes during his 12-day trip for his YouTube channel and upload them while in orbit.

Maezawa’s launch comes at a challenging time for Russia, as its space industry struggles to remain relevant and keep up with Western competitors in the modern space race. 

Last year, US billionaire Elon Musk’s company SpaceX ended Russia’s monopoly on manned flights to the ISS after it delivered astronauts to the orbiting laboratory in its Crew Dragon capsule.

This, however, also freed up seats on Russia’s Soyuz rockets that were previously purchased by NASA, allowing Moscow to accept fee-paying tourists.

So far Russia has sent seven self-funded tourists to space in partnership with the US-based company Space Adventures. Maezawa plans to be the 8th and the first from Japan.  

And in October, the Russian space agency Roscosmos sent actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko to the ISS to film scenes for the first movie in orbit in an effort to beat a rival Hollywood project.

But elsewhere in the world, this has also been a milestone year for amateur space travel. 

In July, billionaire Richard Branson travelled aboard his Virgin Galactic spacecraft, experiencing a few minutes of weightlessness before coming back to Earth.

Blue Origin, the company of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, also completed two missions beyond the Earth’s atmosphere that month. The passengers included 90-year-old Star Trek star William Shatner and Bezos himself. 

Meanwhile, in September, SpaceX operated a historic flight taking the first all-civilian crew on a three-day journey around the Earth’s orbit in a mission called Inspiration4. 

Those journeys mark the beginning of space opening up for non-professionals with more launches announced for the future.

In 2023, SpaceX is planning to take eight amateur astronauts around the moon in a spaceflight that is bankrolled by Maezawa, who will also be onboard.

Russia has said it will take more tourists to the ISS on future Soyuz launches and also plans to offer one of them a spacewalk.

ROCK DRUMMER TO BILLIONAIRE: WHO IS YUSAKU MAEZAWA?

An undated file photo shows Yusaku Maezawa, 42, the founder and CEO of Zozo, Japan’s largest online fashion retailer

Before he became a billionaire fashion entrepreneur, Yusaku Maezawa was an indie rock band member who decided to skip college ‘after seeing all the tired faces on my morning commutes’ in Japan.

Born in 1975 in Chiba prefecture in Japan, Maezawa graduated from the prestigious Waseda Jitugyo High School in 1991.

It was there that he started SWITCH STYLE, an indie rock band which eventually released an EP in 1995.

After graduating, he followed his then-girlfriend to the United States, where he collected CDs and records of musicians he loved.

Born in 1975 in Chiba prefecture in Japan, Maezawa (seen above playing the drums) graduated from the prestigious Waseda Jitugyo High School in 1991. It was there that he started SWITCH STYLE, an indie rock band which eventually released an EP in 1995

In 1995, he returned to Japan and started an import CD and record mail-order business.

His business succeeded, and he began to branch out.

In 2000, he created an online retail business. That same year, his band signed with BMG Japan and debuted an album.

His company, Start Today Inc, also began to sell clothing.

In 2004, Start Today began Zozotown, the site made a killing selling clothes from shops such as Japanese boutique United Arrows and minimal French label A.P.C.

Zozotown’s success turned its founder, Maezawa, into one of Japan’s richest entrepreneurs, and its name adorns a baseball stadium.

Maezawa made his fortune by founding ZOZO, an online clothing retailer which he started in Japan and built into a billion-dollar business

The website set itself apart in its early days with a clean, uncluttered design and a slice of ‘Ura-Hara’ style – the modish fashion of the backstreets that line the trend-setting Harajuku district of Tokyo.

Business took off as fashion-conscious professionals in their late twenties and early thirties started using Zozotown to buy trendy but work-appropriate threads online from labels such as United Arrows and Nano Universe.

Its target is now broader, selling over 6,800 brands including clothes by Shimamura Co Ltd, one of Japan’s largest mass market chains. But industry executives say it still has an enviable cachet.

It continued to grow until 2007, when it went public and was listed in Tokyo Mothers Market.

In recent years, Maezawa has used his wealth to buy famous and pricey works of art.

In 2016, he spent $57.2million for a piece by Jean-Michel Basquiat. A year later, he shelled out a whopping $110.5million at auction in Sotheby’s for another Basquiat piece – this one titled Untitled (as seen above)

In 2016, he spent $57.2million for a piece by Jean-Michel Basquiat.

A year later, he shelled out a whopping $110.5million at auction in Sotheby’s for another Basquiat piece – this one titled Untitled.  

He’s also bought works by Christopher Wool, one of which he paid $13.9million, as well as Richard Prince.

In 2007, Maezawa spent $9.7million on Prince’s ‘Runaway Nurse’, which was a record.

He also paid $6.9million for ‘Lobster’, by Jeff Koons.

Maezawa’s dream is to buy up works of art and display them in his own private museum in his hometown of Chiba prefecture.

Sources: Reuters, The Daily Beast

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