A Russian rocket carrying Japanese billionaires has taken off to the International Space Station (ISS), marking the country’s return to space tourism after a ten-year pause, and competition from American companies has become increasingly fierce.
According to an AFP reporter at the scene, online fashion tycoon Yusaku Maesawa and his production assistant Yozo Hirano took off from the Russian-operated Baikonur space launch site in Kazakhstan at 07:38 GMT on Wednesday.
Their journey on a three-person Soyuz spacecraft piloted by astronaut Alexander Misurkin will take more than 6 hours, ending the iconic year that many consider a turning point in the private realm space travel.
Billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson all achieved groundbreaking commercial travel flights this year, entering a market that Russia is eager to defend.
A group of people on the launch site-including Maezawa Yuzawa’s family and friends-braved the cold temperature and cheered as the rocket flew into the gray sky, leaving behind an orange flame, and then disappearing into the clouds.
“It’s a long process. It’s so touching I almost cried,” said 46-year-old Ryo Okubo, a lawyer for the Maesawa Space Project.
“I’m really excited, but he is also my friend, so I am very worried about him,” the billionaire’s old friend, 44-year-old Hiroyuki Sugimoto told AFP.
There is a family of three among the revellers, who won seats from 1 million applicants at the press conference. The brothers and sisters are holding hand-painted banners, Maesawa’s face is in a sunflower, and there are photos of rockets.
After docking with the Poisk module of the Russian section of the International Space Station, the trio will stay on the space station for 12 days.Japan Tourist Their daily life on the International Space Station will be recorded on Maesawa’s popular YouTube channel.
The 46-year-old billionaire set out 100 tasks on board, including hosting a badminton game on the track.
The International Space Station has seven international crew members, including two Russian astronauts and one Japanese astronaut.
Yusaku Maesawa is a space enthusiast. He also plans to carry eight people on a mission to orbit the moon operated by Musk’s SpaceX in 2023.
Since the reporter Toyohiro Akiyama went to the Mir space station in 1990, he and his assistants were the first Japanese private citizens to visit space.
Competing with SpaceX
Before exiting the industry, Russia had a history of guiding self-financed tourists to space.
Since 2001, the Roscosmos Space Agency has cooperated with the US-based Space Adventures company and has previously received seven tourists to the International Space Station-one of them twice.
The last one is Guy Laliberte, the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil of Canada in 2009, who became the first clown to enter space.
“It’s been 12 years. We have to be very patient. We have to be very creative. Therefore, this is the result of a lot of hard work by many different people,” Space Adventures president Tom Shelley told AFP shortly after liftoff.
In October, since that trip, Russia sent the first untrained astronauts into space, sending a Russian actress and director to the International Space Station, where they filmed the first movie in orbit Scenes.
After NASA retired its space shuttle in 2011, Moscow stopped sending tourists to space, which allowed Russia to monopolize the supply of the International Space Station.
According to reports, NASA purchased all Soyuz launch seats for $90 million per location-effectively ending the tourist flight.
Last year, when the SpaceX spacecraft successfully sent the first astronauts to the International Space Station, the situation changed.
NASA began to purchase flights from SpaceX, depriving Russia of its monopoly, and causing the tightly-funded space agency to lose millions of dollars in revenue.
Although the cost of space tickets for tourists has not been disclosed, Space Adventures says they are between US$50 million and US$60 million.
Roscosmos said it plans to continue to develop its space tourism business and has already commissioned two Soyuz rockets for this type of travel.
“We will not give this niche to the Americans. We are ready to fight for this,” Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin said after the release on Wednesday.
But Roscosmos also faces competition from SpaceX in space tourism.
Earlier this year, the Crew Dragon spacecraft completed a historic first three-day civilian mission to orbit the earth.
Followed by Russia are the Blue Origin of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which completed their maiden voyage this year.