Elon Musk Is Sending a Japanese Billionaire to the Moon, and He’s Taking a Group of Artists With Him

Yusaku Maezawa hopes to recruit six to eight artists for the week-long mission, which is expected to launch as early as 2023

SpaceX released an updated rendering of the Big Falcon Rocket launching into the solar system Elon Musk/SpaceX via Twitter

Last May, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa made headlines when he purchased an untitled 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat painting for $110.5 million, smashing the existing record set by an American artist at auction. Now, Maezawa is back in the spotlight, albeit for a different—yet still art-related—reason: As Amy Thompson reports for Wired, the 42-year-old entrepreneur is headed to the moon, and he’s hoping to bring between six to eight artists with him.

On Monday, tech giant Elon Musk announced that Maezawa had signed up to be the first commercial passenger on the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), a nearly 387-foot-tall vehicle currently under development by the Tesla founder’s astronomical-centered start-up, SpaceX. Maezawa, who has a net worth of roughly $3 billion and is listed by Forbes as the 18th richest person in Japan, not only secured his own place on BFR’s inaugural space trip, but purchased all of the seats on the rocket, ensuring that he’s free to hand-pick the people who will accompany him on the one-week journey.

Although SpaceX’s flagship vehicle won’t be ready for launch until at least 2023, Vox’s Kaitlyn Tiffany writes that Maezawa already has a clear vision of his all-artist crew. During a Monday press conference held at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, the billionaire noted that he wants to recruit artists ranging from film directors to painters, dancers, novelists, musicians, fashion designers, sculptors, photographers and architects.

“I choose to go to the Moon with artists,” Maezawa wrote on a new website dedicated to the project.

Musing on the legacy of some of history’s most prominent artists, he continued, “If Pablo Picasso had been able to see the moon up-close, what kind of paintings would he have drawn? If John Lennon could have seen the curvature of the Earth, what kind of songs would he have written?”

According to The Verge’s Loren Grush, the project, entitled #dearMoon, is entirely Maezawa’s brainchild. As Allyson Chiu writes for The Washington Post, the “former punk rocker-turned-self-made e-commerce billionaire with a love of expensive art” approached SpaceX with plans for the flight and invested enough funds to bring his dream one step closer to reality: As Musk explains, “[Maezawa] put his money where his mouth is,” making a significant down payment toward BFR’s projected $5 billion development cost.

The Independent’s Andrew Griffin reports that BFR will undergo several unmanned test launches before it starts carrying passengers. The initial mission will not involve a lunar landing, but as Grush notes in a separate article for The Verge, the vessel’s two main parts—a giant rocket booster and massive cargo spaceship capable of holding up to 100 passengers—will be engineered to make powered landings on celestial surfaces. Ultimately, Musk hopes to transform the BFR into an “interplanetary transport system capable of getting from Earth to anywhere in the solar system.”

In February 2017, SpaceX announced similar plans to send two private citizens on a one-week journey around the moon. At the time, The Verge’s Grush and Angela Chen wrote that the company planned on launching the mission in the fourth quarter of 2018. Musk hoped to send the space tourists out in a Crew Dragon spacecraft equipped with a Falcon Heavy rocket, but as Jeff Foust reports for Space News, he tabled these plans in February 2018, pledging to instead focus on developing the technology for manned BFR flights.

It remains to be seen whether SpaceX will meet its new 2023 deadline, but in the meantime, Maezawa will be busy recruiting artists from around the world to join his team.

“If you should hear from me, please say yes and accept my invitation,” he said at the Monday press conference. “Please don’t say no.”

At least one prominent figure—NASA veteran Scott Kelly, who may not fit the artistic requirements outlined but would certainly bring valuable knowledge to the mission—is interested in accompanying Maezawa. As the astronaut wrote on Twitter, “Good luck on your trip and if you need someone with a little experience to go with you, my schedule is wide open in 2023.”

Musk may sign up, too: Although he initially said he didn’t know if he’d join the mission, coaxing from Maezawa led him to tell reporters, “Yeah, maybe we will both be on it.”

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