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Japanese entrepreneur to be 1st moon passenger on Elon Musk's SpaceX

SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk, left, announces Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, right, as the first private passenger on a trip around the moon, on Sept. 17, 2018, in Hawthorne, California. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) -- SpaceX, the space transportation firm of U.S. tech billionaire Elon Musk, announced Monday that a Japanese entrepreneur will be its first private passenger to orbit the moon.

Yusaku Maezawa, 42, who runs Japanese clothing shopping site Zozotown, is set to travel on a Big Falcon Rocket spaceship that is currently being developed, the U.S. space company said.

The trip scheduled for 2023 will mark the first time a person has been sent to the moon since the U.S. Apollo program ended in 1972.

Maezawa said at SpaceX's headquarters in California that he will invite six to eight world-renowned artists to join him on the weeklong flight orbiting the moon.

"Finally I can tell you that I have chosen to go to the moon" with artists, Maezawa said. "Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the moon. It's always there and continues to inspire humanity."

An unconventional entrepreneur, Maezawa, the chief executive of Start Today Co. that runs the shopping site, has said "I dislike competing with others." The CEO has also remarked "one should only come to work three days a week."

A man with an artistic bent, Maezawa was part of a band when he founded Start Today in 1998, which was listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2007.

He founded the Contemporary Art Foundation in Tokyo in 2012 and bought two works by U.S. artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in the last two years for a total of around $170 million. Start Today said the art project, #dearMoon, will see the participating artists create works inspired by their time in space.

The entrepreneur said he expects the participants to include painters, sculptors, photographers and architects. He declined to reveal the cost of the trip.

The BFR is a super heavy-lift launch vehicle that will eventually shuttle passengers to the moon and fly people and cargo to Mars.

The plan is to ready it for an unpiloted trip to Mars in 2022, with a crewed flight in 2024. It is also envisioned that the next-generation rocket will whisk travelers between cities at superspeed.

SpaceX has already contributed to space ventures by privately developing a liquid-fuel launch vehicle that orbited the Earth in 2008. It has contracts with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration to carry cargo and crew to the International Space Station.

Musk is also chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Inc.

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