LOS ANGELES -- The announcement by Elon Musk's space transportation firm SpaceX here that Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa will be the first private passenger aboard the company's reusable Big Falcon Rocket to go around the moon comes on the heels of a series of private projects to send humans into space.
Maezawa, who heads the operator of Zozotown shopping site Start Today Co., told a news conference at the SpaceX headquarters near Los Angeles, "Finally, I can tell you that I choose to go to the moon." He added that he was very excited about the trip. He said he will be accompanied by six to eight artists of his choosing including painters and sculptors. Maezawa did not reveal the cost of the journey.
SpaceX tweeted that the space trip planned in 2023 will be "an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space."
Other companies planning to take passengers into space include Virgin Galactic, which intends to send people to an altitude of 100 kilometers or higher with several minutes of zero gravity during the ballistic flight. Boeing Co. is also developing the CST-100 Starliner designed to take astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
SpaceX, established in 2002 by Musk, who also serves as CEO of electric car venture Tesla Motors, has been commissioned by NASA to carry out supply transport missions to the ISS. The Falcon Heavy rocket the company has developed is said to be capable of taking people and supplies to the moon and as far as Mars. SpaceX is also experimenting with reusable rockets to cut down on the cost of launches.
The Los Angeles Times, however, said analysts had noted that "SpaceX has a habit of taking on a number of projects at the same time -- and announcing new ones before current ones have been completed." It is not clear if the moon trip will be completed as scheduled.
The last time the United States sent astronauts to the moon was in 1972, almost half a century ago. The country sent 24 humans to the moon or into the moon's orbit starting in December 1968, when the first American astronauts circled the moon.
Last December, U.S. President Donald Trump announced a plan to return American astronauts to the moon and send them to Mars.
(Japanese original by Hiromi Nagano, Los Angeles Bureau)