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SpaceX says Japanese billionaire will be first private citizen on moon flight

Yusaku Maezawa, founder of fashion retailer Zozo, said he would invite artists to join him on planned lunar mission.

In a live event held Monday at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, Elon Musk said Yusaku Maezawa, the billionaire founder and CEO of Japanese fashion retailer Zozo, would be the first private passenger to fly around the moon on a mission the company has planned for 2023.

"Finally, I can say, I can tell you that I choose to go to the moon," Maezawa said after joining the SpaceX CEO on stage.

Maezawa, 42, said he planned to invite six to eight artists to join him on the historic mission, which he called the "Dear Moon" project. He added that he got the idea after thinking about how seeing the moon up close might affect some of his favorite artists.

Maezawa didn't name the artists he plans to invite on the voyage, which SpaceX has said would take just under six days.

Plans call for Maezawa to make the flight aboard the company's bullet-shaped Big Falcon Spaceship, or BFS. The ship will launch atop a huge booster named the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR. Both vehicles remain in development.

The announcement reboots a similar plan SpaceX announced in 2017 to fly two private passengers around the moon using the company's Falcon Heavy rocket and Crew Dragon capsule. The company canceled that flight after deciding not to spend resources certifying Falcon Heavy safe for human flights.

The flight would represent a major test of the 348-foot-tall rocket system that SpaceX hopes to use to send 100 colonists at a time to Mars. To keep operating costs down, both the BFR and BFS will be reusable, and SpaceX plans to phase out its current rocket and capsule lineup altogether.

"We want to have one booster and ship that replaces Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon," Musk said in 2017. "If we can do that, all those resources can be applied to this system."

SpaceX has a history of setting ambitious project timelines that ultimately slip. The company's Falcon Heavy rocket launched four years later than promised, while its new crew capsule will have been delayed about five years when it sends its first crew of astronauts to the ISS next year.

"It's a very exciting announcement, but we've also heard this before," Laura Seward Forczyk, founder of Atlanta-based space consulting firm Astralytical, said in advance of Monday's event.

Forczyk said SpaceX could bolster its credibility by disclosing realistic price tags and development timelines and showing the public more progress of its rocket system.

"They've shown us some of BFR already," she said. "More flight-ready hardware reveals and some test demonstrations would go a long way to proving their capabilities."

The first such test demonstration is expected to happen in 2019, with a "short-hop" vertical launch and landing of the BFS at the company's Brownsville, Texas, test site.

SpaceX conducted similar tests for the Falcon 9. Musk's ultimate goal for the BFS and BFR remains colonizing Mars. Last year, during an update at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, he showed an audience a slide saying the first crewed BFS would land on Mars in 2024.

"That's not a typo," he said. "Though it is aspirational."

Richard Garriott, a SpaceX investor and private astronaut who spent 11 days in space during a visit to the International Space Station in 2008, said those aboard the spacecraft would experience what is commonly known as the "overview effect" — a profound shift in perspective upon seeing our planet from space.

"My sense of scale of the Earth collapsed," Garriott said of his own experience. "You get a much deeper connection to the Earth than you ever felt before."

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