Japan’s Yusaku Maezawa revealed as first customer for SpaceX trip around the moon


SpaceX CEO Elon Musk discusses the latest version of his vision for the BFR rocket. (SpaceX via YouTube)

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk today introduced Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa as the first paying customer for a trip around the moon’

“Finally I can tell you that ‘I choose to go to the moon,'” Maezawa said, echoing President John F. Kennedy’s famous phrase.

The announcement at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., followed days of speculation over the identity of the first passenger — and months of chatter about the capabilities of the BFR, an acronym for “Big Falcon Rocket” in its G-rated interpretation.

Musk laid out his first design for the mammoth two-stage BFR in 2016 at the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico, and refined it for the 2017 IAC meeting in Australia. The BFR’s principal purpose is to carry settlers and their stuff to Mars, 100 passengers at a time.

Last year, Musk said the BFR could be used for trips to the moon and other celestial destinations, as well as for suborbital point-to-point trips on Earth.

Short-hop testing of the BFR’s second stage, nicknamed the Big Falcon Spaceship or BFS, could begin as early as next year. Those tests will take the form of progressively higher up-and-down flights at an earthly launch facility.

If all goes according to plan, spaceflights could start in the early 2020s. Today SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell was quoted as saying that the company had its “eyes on the prize” for an initial BFR flight to Mars in 2024, although she acknowledged that SpaceX’s timelines often slip to the right.

SpaceX said last year that it planned to send two private citizens around the moon in a Dragon crew capsule to be launched by a Falcon Heavy rocket. The company said the passengers paid a “significant deposit” for the trip but did not identify them.

In February, SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy for the first time. However, Musk said that rocket would not be certified to carry people, which ruled out a round-the-moon trip on a Falcon Heavy. Instead, the company shifted its future focus to the BFR.

In a tweet sent out before tonight’s big reveal, Musk emphasized that the “top SpaceX priority” is to launch national security missions and to get the company’s Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules ready to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX’s crewed missions are currently scheduled to begin by the middle of next year.

Boeing is working in parallel to get its CST-100 Starliner capsule ready for crewed flights to and from the space station. Its timeline currently lags slightly behind SpaceX’s, but both timelines are still subject to change.

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