Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa invited the public on Tuesday to apply for a spot on SpaceX’s Starship in his private mission around the Moon, reaching out to a “wider, more diverse audience” two years after announcing he’d only ride with a select group of artists. The trip is currently slated for 2023, but that date might not hold.
“I want people from all kinds of backgrounds to join,” Maezawa said in a video posted Tuesday afternoon, when the contest’s application went live. “It will be 10 to 12 people in all, but I will be inviting 8 people to come along on the ride.”
Maezawa, the founder of Japan’s largest online fashion retailer, is worth about $2 billion. He was revealed as Starship’s first signed passenger back in 2018 during an event with CEO Elon Musk at SpaceX’s California headquarters. At the event, Maezawa, an avid art collector, announced his Dear Moon Project, which aimed to bring “six to eight artists from around the world” to join him in a roughly six-day lunar flyby mission sometime in 2023.
“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 said at the time.
In a YouTube video posted on Tuesday, Maezawa said that plan “has since evolved,” adding that “maybe every single person is doing something creative could be called an artist.”
Now, anyone who meets two criteria could get picked for the ride: those who “can push its envelope to help other people and greater society in some way” and are “willing to support other crew members who share similar aspirations.”
Project updates have been scant over the past two years. In January 2020, Maezawa launched a bizarre campaign to search for a “female partner” who would accompany him on his trip around the Moon. A website for the contest received 27,722 applications, and Japanese streaming service AbemaTV was set to document the mission in a reality TV show called Full Moon Lovers. Weeks later, the show was canceled, and Maezawa called off his search due to “personal reasons,” he tweeted, apologizing to the AbemaTV crew and all of the applicants.
Starship is SpaceX’s next-generation, fully reusable Mars rocket system designed to ferry humans and up to 100 tons of cargo on future missions into deep space. Only early iterations of the rocket have flown so far, with one of two recent high-altitude tests flying as high as 7.8 miles over SpaceX’s Starship facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. Both of those tests ended in fiery explosions during their landing attempts.
Maezawa’s announcement on Tuesday lacked any details on how the selected astronauts would train for the mission, but he made clear the undisclosed ticket price is on him: “I will pay for the entire journey. I have bought all the seats, so it will be a private ride.” He said it will take three days to get to the Moon, where Starship will loop behind it and begin its three-day journey back to Earth.
Under a rigorous and sometimes bumpy development timeline, Musk and SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell have said Starship’s first orbital flight could come at the end of 2021. Last year, Musk said Starship needs to “do hundreds of missions with satellites before we put people on board,” a feat that calls the 2023 moonshot date into question.
SpaceX’s other crew vehicle, Crew Dragon, is already in its operational phase and is racking up future flights with private astronauts and tourists. The acorn-shaped capsule flew its first two crews of astronauts to the International Space Station last year under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The private astronaut missions lined up include a flight to the space station planned for early next year carrying real estate investors and philanthropists, and an “all-civilian” charity-focused mission announced last month that’s slated for launch by year’s end.