SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has named the Japanese billionaire as the first private citizen to take a recreational space flight.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on September 19, 2018

At a press conference to announce that he will be SpaceX’s first passenger, the 42-year-old Maezawa took the opportunity to describe his plan to “travel to the moon with artists”.

Maezawa has booked out the entire first flight and intends to assemble a crew which includes a film director, novelist, musician, fashion designer, photographer, painter, sculptor and architect. When this merry band of moon tourists returns, Maezawa plans to curate an exhibition of their work, titled #dearMoon, to commemorate the trip.

Maezawa and company are scheduled to leave for the moon in 2023. SpaceX, whose CEO is Elon Musk, is still working on developing its Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) for the moon voyage and is estimated to have spent around US$5 billion on the project.

Only 24 people have visited the moon, with half of that number actually landing. Maezawa and friends will not land on the moon’s surface but will instead travel on a free return trajectory, meaning the BFR will head back to earth after completing a full circuit around the far side of the moon.

“If Pablo Picasso has been able to see the moon…”

At the launch at SpaceX’s Californian headquarters, Maezawa cut a youthful, gently eccentric figure and conveyed a childlike glee when talking about the improbable mission he had signed up for.

“Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the moon,” he enthused. “Just staring at the moon filled my imagination. It’s always there and has continued to inspire humanity. That is why I could not pass up this opportunity to see the moon up close.”

Maezawa said the trip to the moon offered incredible artistic possibilities. “If Pablo Picasso had been able to see the moon up-close, what kind of paintings would he have drawn?,” he mused.

“If John Lennon could have seen the curvature of the Earth, what kind of songs would he have written?”

Maezawa: self-made billionaire, art patron, online retail pioneer

Before seizing the chance to live out his wildest childhood dream, Maezawa built his fortune in Japan’s hyper-competitive apparel retail scene. He has a net worth of US$2.9 billion which makes him the 822nd wealthiest person in the world. Within Japan, he is the wealthiest person for his age.

Maezawa’s career has been one of turning his passions into incredible wealth. After high school, he skipped college in favour of moving to the US with his girlfriend, playing in a band and collecting records. When he returned to Japan, he saw an unoccupied niche for a mail order record and CD company and pounced on it.

Drawing on the same mail-order model, he founded a clothing company Start Today, taking the name from a song by one of his favourite bands, New York hardcore legends Gorilla Biscuits. The company was way ahead the curve in terms of understanding the online retail environment and proved wildly successful.

With Start Today flying, Maezawa leveraged its success to found a subsidiary company, Zozoglobal, which describes itself as offering “Clothing custom-fit to your unique body”. Zozoglobal is also known for its custom measuring suit, the Zozosuit, which it mass produces and mails to customers to facilitate online shopping for form-fitting clothes.

The other constant in Maezawa’s life has been art. He founded the Contemporary Art Foundation in Tokyo with an objective of supporting the next generation of contemporary artists. He is also a high-profile and eclectic art collector, having smashed records by paying US$110.5 million for a Jean-Michel Basquiat work.

Maezawa also seems to be a gracious host and has offered Elon Musk a seat on the inaugural flight. Musk was noncommittal on whether he would take up the offer, but was full of praise for his company’s first paying customer, saying Maezawa “had done a lot to restore my faith in humanity.”