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Watch: Elon Musk reveals Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire, will fly to the moon

Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire, is expected to fly to the moon aboard SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket in 2023.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Announces First Private Passenger flight To The Moon
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shakes hands with Yusaka Maezawa, the Japanese billionaire chosen by the company to fly around the moon.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Brian Resnick is Vox’s science and health editor, and is the co-creator of Unexplainable, Vox's podcast about unanswered questions in science. Previously, Brian was a reporter at Vox and at National Journal.

No human being has flown near the moon since December 1972, when the Apollo 17 mission returned to Earth. Elon Musk, via his rocket company SpaceX, wants to change that.

On Monday night, amid much fanfare, Musk revealed the name of “the world’s first private passenger to fly around the Moon.” The passenger, Yusaku Maezawa, a clothing tycoon from Japan, is expected to make the journey aboard SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket, an enormous 348-foot-tall launch vehicle that’s still in development. Maezawa, 42, expects to take the trip sometime around 2023, if the rocket is ready. And he hopes to bring along with him some of “Earth’s top artists” along for the ride, as he writes on a new website about his future mission.

“I can tell you that I choose to go to the Moon! I choose to go to the moon with artists!” Maezawa said at the SpaceX event, paraphrasing John F. Kennedy.

He hopes the trip will inspire artists to create great works. “If Pablo Picasso had been able to see the moon up-close, what kind of paintings would he have drawn?” Maezawa writes.

Watch the announcement replay here:

SpaceX hopes the Big Falcon Rocket — a.k.a. the BFR — will be a go-to launch vehicle for spaceflight to the moon and, one day, to Mars. (Though we don’t think it would be a very fun place to go.)

If this all sounds familiar, well, it’s because Musk has announced a similar thing before. As the Verge’s Loren Grush reminds us, “In February 2017, Musk announced that the company had signed two paying customers to fly around the Moon” on the Falcon Heavy rocket sometime in 2018. That didn’t happen.

You may recall that the Falcon Heavy did launch for the first time this past year, but wasn’t carrying humans or traveling to the moon. Instead, it ejected a bright red Tesla convertible into orbit around the sun.

Maezawa, a billionaire entrepreneur and art collector, plans to document his trip as part of an art project called #dearMoon.

Remember that Musk is known for wildly ambitious plans that attract a lot of media attention, as well as wildly ambitious timelines that often are way overblown.

And lately, he’s been getting attention for his venomous tweets, odd public behavior, and outbursts at reporters. On Monday, a British cave diver who helped free the trapped Thai soccer team this past summer, sued Musk for calling him a “pedo” and “child rapist” on Twitter. (Musk had previously told BuzzFeed News, “I hope [Vernon Unsworth, the diver] fucking sues me.”)

Musk has also been dealing with troubles at his electric car company Tesla, which has been struggling to keep up with production. Investors sold off shares of the company after Musk appeared to smoke weed on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Meanwhile, in a seemingly unrelated incident, the chief accounting officer of the company resigned.

Perhaps after Monday night Musk will return to doing what he (usually) does best: getting people excited about the future. And if Musk and SpaceX can finance — and follow through on — the plans, it would make history. As the Atlantic points out, the only people who have ever been to the moon are white American men. This could be an opportunity to change the face of space exploration.

Further reading: SpaceX, Tesla, and Elon Musk

  • The Verge’s Loren Grush explains SpaceX’s ambitious plans for the BFR.
  • Vox’s Emily Stewart explains what the heck happened with Musk, marijuana, Joe Rogan, and Musk’s feud with a cave diver, as well as whether his companies are in trouble for his headline-grabbing behavior.
  • And BuzzFeed has details on the defamation lawsuit against Musk.