This evening, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk revealed that Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire and founder of Zozotown, Japan’s largest online clothing retailer, will be the first private customer to ride around the Moon on the company’s future massive rocket, the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR). Maezawa plans to fly on the trip as early as 2023, and he wants to take artists with him to turn the entire ride into an art project called #dearMoon. A website for the mission went live after the announcement.
“Finally, I can tell you that I choose to go to the Moon! I choose to go to the moon with artists!” Maezawa said to announce his trip at a SpaceX event.
Maezawa, who is 42, reportedly has a current net worth of $2.9 billion, according to Forbes. He is also an avid art collector, and he spent $110.5 million on a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat called Untitled last year. As an artist, he wants to invite other artists to come along with him on his ride. Maezawa says he has “bought all the seats” on the BFR and will be looking for others to join him on a week-long mission around the Moon.
“I would like to invite six to eight artists from around the world to join me on this mission to the Moon,” he said. “These artists will be asked to create something after they return to Earth, and these masterpieces will inspire the dreamer within all of us.” Maezawa says he hasn’t decided which artists he’d like to invite yet, but he would like them to represent many different fields, such as painters, musicians, film directors, and more.
Maezawa says he was inspired by imagining what his favorite artists would have created if they had traveled to space. “What if Picasso had gone to the Moon? Or Andy Warhol or Michael Jackson or John Lennon?” he asked at the event. “What about Coco Chanel? These are all artists that I adore.”
Musk said that Maezawa actually came to SpaceX with the idea to do this flight. The billionaire declined to say how much he paid for the flight, but the trip will be free for the artists who go with him. Musk also noted that the down payment Maezawa made was significant enough that it will “have a material effect on paying for cost and development of BFR.”
“It makes a difference,” Musk said. “He puts his money where his mouth is. He’s legit.” Musk also estimated that the development cost for BFR will be roughly $5 billion.
SpaceX hasn’t decided on any specific type of training that Maezawa will do for the mission yet. “Nothing is written in stone,” Maezawa said through a translator. “We are going to start discussion and decide here on forward.”
This isn’t the first time that SpaceX has announced plans to send a paying customer to the Moon on one of its vehicles. In February 2017, Musk proclaimed that two individuals had each put down a “significant deposit” to fly around the Moon on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, a larger version of the Falcon 9. No details about the passengers were given, though Musk said it was “nobody from Hollywood.” The flight was slated to occur before the end of this year.
However, SpaceX ultimately decided to scrap the Falcon Heavy Moon mission. At the Falcon Heavy’s inaugural launch in February, Musk said that SpaceX had decided to put people on the BFR instead. The BFR is the massive reusable rocket that SpaceX is developing to take people to the Moon and Mars. Maezawa was supposed to be one of the passengers on the Falcon Heavy flight. It’s unclear what happened to the other passenger.
Despite revealing this new passenger, SpaceX has yet to launch anyone to space. The company is working on it, though. Through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX has been updating its Dragon cargo capsule to carry crew to and from the International Space Station. The plan, as of now, is to launch the vehicle, called Crew Dragon, for the first time on a test flight in December without passengers on board, according to Musk. That’s a month later than the most recent dates announced by NASA. The company then hopes to fly the capsule with a two-person crew in the second quarter of 2019. Musk maintained that Commercial Crew is still the priority for SpaceX at the moment.
Meanwhile, Musk and Maezawa say that will continue to update the public with news about the Moon mission over the coming years. And Musk even left open the possibility that he would join the artist ride. “As far as me going, I’m not sure,” he said. “Maybe I would join on this trip, I don’t know.” After some encouragement from Maezawa, Musk said he might consider it. “Yeah, maybe we will both be on it.”