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A Japanese billionaire in space: what you need to know about the incredible Russian mission that leaves this Wednesday for the ISS

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This Wednesday at 8:38 am, a Souyouz rocket took off from Baikonur to carry billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, his Russian assistant and cosmonaut to the ISS, marking a new stage in the race for space tourism.

A Japanese billionaire took off on Wednesday morning, December 8, aboard a Russian rocket for a twelve-day stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS), a journey that marks Moscow’s return to orbital tourism. Here’s what you need to know about this extraordinary mission.

A smooth take off

The wayward Yusaku Maezawa, 46, who made his fortune from online fashion, and his assistant Yozo Hirano departed as scheduled from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 7:38 GMT (8:38 a.m. KST).

Shooting! Ok, let’s go! ud83d ude80

A Soyuz-2.1a rocket with a tourist crew on board was launched from Baikonur!

Alexander Misurkin’s # SoyuzMS20 crew and spaceflight participants Yusaku Maezawa and Yozo Hirano went to International @Space_Station. pic.twitter.com/EgbHFtnPRl

– ROSCOSMOS (@roscosmos) December 8, 2021

His flight is scheduled to last six hours, and docking at the Poisk module of the Russian segment of the ISS is expected at 13:41 GMT (14:41 Paris time).

A twelve day trip

Cosmonaut Alexandre Missourkine, who is part of the mission, judged that his companions would have a very busy schedule. He has planned a “friendly” weightless badminton tournament with them.

The billionaire, who has set out to perform 100 tasks in space, has planned to document his stay on video on his YouTube channel, which has more than 780,000 subscribers.

Currently, seven people are on board the ISS, including two Russians and one Japanese.

A preparation “in the Russian style”

In the morning, the billionaire, his assistant and cosmonaut Alexander Missurkin, who will pilot the Soyuz, left his hotel in Baikonur to the tune of a Soviet song traditionally played for all cosmonauts before the flight. This song, about cosmonauts nostalgic for their home, was partially sung in Japanese.

“Dreams come true,” Yusaku Maezawa tweeted on Wednesday morning. “I am excited as a child before a field trip,” he told a news conference on the eve of departure.

The # SoyuzMS20 spacecraft crew has already donned the Sokol KV-2 flight suits!

Leak checks are being carried out, communication checks and medical parameters are being recorded on the Kazbek-UM chairs. pic.twitter.com/AfejlVdTQl

– ROSCOSMOS (@roscosmos) December 8, 2021

Before that and for long weeks, he and his assistant prepared in Star City, a city built near Moscow in the 1960s to train generations of cosmonauts.

A juicy sector for Russia to exploit

The highly lucrative private space flight sector is currently being boosted by the recent entry into the careers of American billionaires Elon Musk (SpaceX) and Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin), as well as that of Britain’s Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic ). .

In September, SpaceX organized a three-day orbit flight with a fully amateur crew. He also plans to take several tourists around the moon in 2023, including Maezawa, who is financing this operation.

After a decade-long hiatus, Wednesday’s flight marks the return to the arena of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, as the country’s aerospace industry is plagued with corruption scandals and technical and financial difficulties.

In 2020, with the commissioning of SpaceX rockets and capsules, Russia lost its monopoly on manned flights to the ISS and the tens of millions of dollars that NASA and other space agencies were paying for each seat aboard Soyuz. .

The mission of the two Japanese tourists is organized by Roscosmos and its American partner Space Adventures. Between 2001 and 2009, these two partners had already sent extremely wealthy entrepreneurs into space eight times.

As a sign of the Russian space sector’s desire for a facelift, in October Roscosmos sent a director and an actress aboard the ISS to shoot the first feature film in the history of orbit, ahead of a competitive project of the star of Hollywood Tom Cruise.

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