SpaceX's Lunar Passenger, One Year After Reveal, Is Preparing for Lift-Off
SpaceX’s first lunar passenger is getting ready for space.
On September 17, 2018, the company held a press conference at its headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Founder Elon Musk revealed that Yusaku Maezawa, a 42-year-old Japanese billionaire that founded online clothing retailer Zozo, would take a group of six to eight artists around the moon in the then-named BFR. Painters, musicians, sculptors and architects would be invited on a four-to-five day journey dubbed “Dear Moon.”
“These artists will be asked to create something when they return to Earth,” Maezawa said at the time. “These masterpieces will inspire the dreamer inside all of us. Needless to say, we’ve always been inspired by the Moon. Take for example, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and The Beatles’ Mr. Moonlight.”
Maezawa’s trip is scheduled to take place in 2023. As a full year passes from the final reveal, the plan to tour the moon is slowly taking shape — most recently with Maezawa stepping down as CEO of Zozo.
SpaceX’s Lunar Passenger: Maezawa Lives His Dream
In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, press attention focused in on two main questions: who is the passenger, and how will SpaceX send them around the moon?
Although a high-profile figure in Japan, Maezawa is less well-known in the west. His Twitter profile, largely in Japanese bar some exceptions, has over four million followers. In January 2019 he claimed the title for the most retweeted post on the platform, after he offered 100 randomly-selected people a share of 100 million yen ($930,000). Japan Times described him after the reveal as “Japan’s corporate enfant terrible…an anomaly in the nation’s conservative business climate that prefers low-key executives who shun the spotlight.”
Maezawa was described in the press as a man who likes space travel, fine wine, art and fashion. He started out as a drummer in a punk band called Switch Style in the early ‘90s, before moving onto Start Today in 1998. He opened the online fashion retailed Zozotown in 2004, which became the country’s largest such retailer. As of June 2019 he was worth $1.8 billion.
But it’s in this next journey, to the moon, where Maezawa may live out his biggest dreams yet.
“Ever since I was a kid I have loved the moon, very much,” he told the BBC in October 2018. “Initially I thought that only one or two passengers were allowed, but Elon Musk and SpaceX offered the possibility of 10, which made me think about taking artists.”
Maezawa’s company did not have a good year. The much-hyped Zozosuit, a free suit that measured the wearer for clothes fittings, was dubbed a “failure” by Quartz in January 2019. Three months later, the company stated it would close its American and European operations. Operating profits fell nearly 22 percent year-over-year.
On September 12, Maezawa announced he would step down as Zozo CEO and sell the majority of his stake to Yahoo Japan for $3.7 billion. Part of the reason for this move, he suggested, was to dedicate more time to preparing for space.
“Training to go into space will to take up much of my time,” he said in comments reported by Forbes.
SpaceX’s Lunar Passenger: Your Rocket Awaits
Musk has never revealed how much Maezawa is paying for the trip, but at the original press conference, he said that the system would cost between $2 billion and $10 billion to develop. Musk also added that Maezawa is “ultimately paying for the average citizen to travel to other planets,” a note that suggests his contribution will help fund development costs.
In the year since, BFR — now dubbed Starship — has come on leaps and bounds. The company has switched to a new stainless steep design, for a ship expected to tower nearly 400 feet in its fullest form. The rocket will help ferry the first humans to Mars and other planets, thanks to its use of liquid oxygen and methane that astronauts could harvest from the Martian atmosphere. The system could spark a planet-hopping network of refueling depots.
“There’s so many things that make people sad or depressed about the future, but I think becoming a space-faring civilization is one of those things that makes you excited about the future…that is the intent of BFR, is to make people excited about the future,” Musk said at the September 2018 event.
In February 2019, the ship’s Raptor engine broke a long-standing record. In April, a shortened version of the ship called “Starhopper” completed a tethered firing. In August, the ship completed a 150-meter jump.
Musk is now preparing to unveil a full-size prototype of the final ship. The event, scheduled for later this month, is set to precede a larger jump of 20 kilometers into the air. Documents also suggest the company may aim to complete a 100-kilometer jump.
All this is laying the groundwork for the Starship’s first mission, which could come in 2021. The company is reportedly speaking to three telecommunications companies about using the ship to send a satellite into space around this time.