Russian rocket blasts off carrying Japanese billionaire to ISS

A Russian rocket carrying a Japanese billionaire has lifted off for the International Space Station (ISS), marking the nation’s return to area tourism after a decade-long pause that noticed the rise of competitors from US corporations.

Online trend tycoon Yusaku Maezawa and his manufacturing assistant Yozo Hirano blasted off on Wednesday from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 07:38 GMT, an AFP correspondent on the scene reported.

Their journey on board the three-person Soyuz spacecraft piloted by cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin will take simply over six hours, capping a banner yr that many have seen as a turning level for personal area travel.

Billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson all made breakthrough industrial tourism flights this yr, bursting right into a market Russia is eager to defend.

A crowd on the launch web site – together with Maezawa’s household and pals – braved freezing temperatures and cheered because the rocket blasted off into the gray sky, leaving a path of orange flames earlier than disappearing within the clouds.

“This has been a long process. It’s so moving. I was about to cry,” stated Ryo Okubo, 46, a lawyer for Maezawa’s area tasks.

“I’m really excited but he’s also my friend so I’m worried about him,” a longtime pal of the billionaire, 44-year-old Hiroyuki Sugimoto, informed AFP.

Among the revellers was a household of three who received spots on the launch from out of one million candidates. The brother and sister had been holding hand-drawn banners with Maezawa’s face inside a sunflower and an image of a rocket.

After docking on the Poisk module of the Russian phase of the ISS, the trio will spend 12 days on the station. The Japanese vacationers will doc their each day life on board the ISS for Maezawa’s widespread YouTube channel.

The 46-year-old billionaire has set out 100 duties to finish on board, together with internet hosting a badminton match in orbit.

The ISS is home to a world crew of seven folks, together with two Russian cosmonauts and a Japanese astronaut.

Maezawa, who’s an area fanatic, additionally plans to take eight folks with him on a 2023 mission across the moon operated by Musk’s SpaceX.

He and his assistant are the primary non-public Japanese residents to go to area since journalist Toyohiro Akiyama travelled to the Mir station in 1990.

Competing with SpaceX

Before its hiatus from the business, Russia had a historical past of shepherding self-funded vacationers to area.

In partnership with US-based firm Space Adventures, the Roscosmos area company beforehand took seven vacationers to the ISS since 2001 – one among them twice.

The final was Canada’s Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberte in 2009, who turned the primary clown in area.

“It’s been 12 years. We’ve had to be very patient. We’ve had to be very creative. So, this is the culmination of a lot of effort from a lot of different people,” Tom Shelley, president of Space Adventures, informed AFP shortly after liftoff.

In October, Russia launched its first untrained cosmonauts into area since that journey, delivering a Russian actress and director to the ISS the place they filmed scenes for the primary film in orbit.

Moscow had stopped sending vacationers to area after NASA retired its Space Shuttle in 2011, which left Russia with a monopoly on supplying the ISS.

NASA purchased up all Soyuz launch seats for a reported $90m per spot – successfully ending vacationer flights.

That modified final yr when a SpaceX spacecraft efficiently delivered its first astronauts to the ISS.

NASA started buying flights from SpaceX, stripping Russia of its monopoly and costing its cash-strapped area company tens of millions of {dollars} in income.

While the price of tickets to area for vacationers has not been disclosed, Space Adventures has indicated that they’re within the vary of $50m to $60m.

Roscosmos has stated it plans to proceed rising its area tourism enterprise, already commissioning two Soyuz rockets for such journeys.

“We will not give this niche to the Americans. We are ready to fight for it,” Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin stated following the launch Wednesday.

But Roscosmos is going through competitors from SpaceX in area tourism too.

Earlier this yr, a Crew Dragon capsule took an all-civilian mission on a three-day journey across the Earth’s orbit in a historic first.

Also scorching on Russia’s heels are Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which accomplished their maiden vacationer voyages this yr.

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