Japanese billionaire to make first tourist moon visit

Elon Musk chief executive officer for Space Exploration Technologies Corp

The announcement reboots a similar mission SpaceX planned in 2017 to fly two private citizens around the moon on the Falcon Heavy rocket and Crew Dragon capsule.

"One day, when I was staring at his painting, I thought, what if Basquiat had gone to space, and had seen the moon up close, or saw Earth in full view".

Maezawa gained his riches by founding two major Japanese online retailers, Zozotown and Start Today, which have made him one of the wealthiest people in Japan.

Maezawa refused to name the sum for the journey to the moon, but said that he has already made a prepayment.

"I did not want to have such a fantastic experience by myself", said Maezawa, wearing a blue sports jacket over a white T-shirt printed with a work by the late painter Jean-Michel Basquiat.

"I wish to create wonderful works of art for humankind", he said.

"Maybe we'll both be on it", Elon Musk said after Maezawa's invitation.

Musk would not reveal the cost of the trip, but said the Japanese businessman outlaid a significant deposit and will have a material impact on the cost of developing the BFR.

The reusable 118m rocket will have its own dedicated passenger ship and its development is expected to cost about US$5 billion, Musk said.

A total of 24 NASA astronauts, all men, traveled to the Moon and back during the Apollo missions during the 1960s and 1970s. Maezawa's identity was revealed at an event on Monday evening at the company's headquarters and rocket factory in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne.

Musk has put NASA and the Air Force - which collaborates with the space agency in myriad ways - in the awkward position of having to respond to controversial conduct recently.

It also aims to build a staffed gateway near the moon during the 2020s. "They say, who is this Maezawa person?" In 2012, he started the Tokyo-based Contemporary Art Foundation to support young artists. He is also known for having dropped $110 million on a painting by the American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat a year ago at a Sotheby's auction.

SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk outlined a somewhat different mission a year ago.

Last year, Musk said the BFR's admittedly "ambitious" goal was to make a test flight to Mars in 2022, followed by a crewed flight to the Red Planet in 2024.

According to The New York Times, seven people have paid to go to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz rocket.

In the past few months, Musk has lashed out at analysts during an earnings call for Tesla, his electric vehicle company, for asking "boring, bonehead questions". (On Monday, the diver sued him for defamation.) Then he vowed to take Tesla private, saying that the "funding was secured", only to reverse himself shortly afterward. And last month he tweeted that his new jet's interior is being fashioned by luxury label Hermes.

The lawsuit brought by Vernon Unsworth, who helped with the rescue of 12 Thai teenagers from a flooded cave in July, seeks $75,000 in compensation and an injunction against Mr Musk to stop further allegations.

He has alleged that a cave diver in Thailand who helped rescue stranded boys was a "pedo", smoked what appeared to be marijuana on a comedian's podcast, spooked Tesla investors with comments about the future of the electric auto maker, and admitted to exhaustion and use of the sleeping pill Ambien. The device wasn't used and in the interview, Unsworth called it a "PR stunt" and said it wouldn't have worked to free the boys who were trapped in the flooded cave.

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