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SpaceX Flies a Japanese Millionaire (and Artists, Too!) Around the Moon in 2023

An artistic illustration of SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket launch in the space. SpaceX will launch the Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa on the first passenger flight around the moon, possibly in 2023.

(SpaceX)

A Japanese billionaire and a coterie of artists, a visit to the moon as early as in 2023, and was the first private citizens ever to fly than a low Earth orbit, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced tonight.

Yusaku Maezawa, founder of the Japanese e-commerce giant Zozo, has signed up to fly a round-the-moon-mission aboard SpaceX’s BFR spaceship rocket combo , he and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced during a webcast tonight (Sept. 17) the company’s rocket factory in Hawthorne, California.

The mission — that loop around but not land on the moon could be ready for launch in just five years, Musk said. [ The BFR in Pictures: SpaceX’s Huge Spaceship from Mars & Beyond ]

“Since I was a child, I loved the moon,” Maezawa said. “Just staring at the moon fueled my imagination; it is always there and has continued to inspire humanity. That is the reason why I don’t pass up this opportunity to see the moon up close.”

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Maezawa not go alone. He said that he will choose six to eight artists, from painters and sculptors to fashion designers and architects, to share the experience with him — and, ultimately, with all of us. The artwork that the results of this weeklong “#dearMoon” mission “will inspire the dreamer in all of us,” said Maezawa, who is an avid art collector. He has launched a website ( https://dearmoon.earth/ ) for the project.

Maezawa also has invited Musk to come along, and the SpaceX chief didn’t exactly shoot down the possibility: “Maybe we both are”, Musk said.

Neither Musk, nor Maezawa would make known how much the flight costs. But both said that Maezawa has already made a significant down payment, and that he buys the whole flight (in the meaning of the artists will fly free).

Musk emphasized that the mission, the details of which still need to be worked out, will be dangerous. He praised Maezawa for his bravery.

“This is no walk in the park,” Musk said. “When you’re pushing the border, it is not a sure thing.”

SpaceX is developing the BFR — which stands for Big Falcon Rocket, or Big F***ing Rocket in the first place, to help mankind settle Mars and other worlds in the solar system. After all, Musk has long maintained that the helping of humanity a multiplanet species is the main reason he set up SpaceX back in 2002. (The BFR will also do a lot of other work. SpaceX provides the vehicle ultimately bear all taxes , from the launch of satellites with the cleaning of the space junk to carry passengers on superfast point-to-point” travel here on Earth.)

Musk estimated that it will eventually cost about $5 billion for the BFR up and running. And he thanked Maezawa for the provision of an important piece of the financing in the direction of that goal.

“This has done a lot to restore my faith in humanity — that someone is willing to do this,” Musk said. “Ultimately, he is helping to pay for the average citizen to be able to travel to other planets. It is a great thing.”

The CEO of SpaceX also an update on the BFR design during tonight’s event. For example, the reusable rocket-and-spacecraft duo will be larger than previously indicated — 387 feet (118 meters), compared to the 348 ft (106 m) that Musk cited during his September 2017 overview of the vehicle.

And the new BFR spacecraft will feature three behind-operated fins” that also serve as landing pads , as well as two fins near the nose. The previous spacecraft iteration wore only two finlike “delta wings” in the back.

The BFR spaceship, about 100 people, but the “Sweet Moon” trip will carry only a skeleton crew for extra fuel, food, water, and parts, as a precaution in case something goes wrong, Musk said.

The 2023 launch date is not set in stone, he stressed. SpaceX wants to perform a short “hopper tests” next year, and high-altitude, high-velocity flights in 2020. If those tests go well, the first flight to orbit the Earth and could occur in two to three years from now, Musk said. And SpaceX will perform a number of uncrewed test flights before Maezawa, and the artists on the board.

This is not Maezawa’s first experience with booking a moon flight with SpaceX.

The Japanese entrepreneur was also the person who booked a circumlunar flight with SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Falcon Heavy rocket, Musk announced tonight. That mission, SpaceX announced in February 2017 , was for the transportation of two persons — presumably Maezawa and an artist — and launch by the end of 2018.

While humanity has maintained a continuous presence on board the International Space Station since November 2000, no person who has ventured beyond the Earth orbit since the Apollo 17 mission to the moon ended in December 1972.

NASA is also intended to launch astronauts around the moon at about the same time that SpaceX has. The space agency’s exploration mission-2, the first manned test flight of the Orion capsule and Space Launch System rocket, is currently scheduled to lift off on a three-week circumlunar mission in 2023.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+ . Follow us @Spacedotcom , Facebook or Google+ . Originally published on Space.com .

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