TOKYO: A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying Japanese business tycoon Yusaku Maezawa and two other people arrived at the International Space Station on Wednesday, after successfully blasting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
It will be the first time for a Japanese non-astronaut to stay at the ISS.
A Soyuz rocket carrying the three-seater spacecraft was launched at 4:38 p.m. Japan time (7:38 a.m. GMT) from the Kazakh space center.
The two on board the spacecraft other than the 46-year-old founder of online fashion mall operator Zozo Inc. are Yozo Hirano, a 36-year-old executive of a company affiliated with Zozo, and a Russian astronaut serving as the spacecraft’s commander.
The Soyuz craft docked with the ISS around 10:40 p.m. the same day. As the hatch opened around 1:10 a.m. on Thursday, the trio entered the ISS, smiling and waving their hands, and shook hands with astronauts staying in the station. In communication with the ground, Maezawa said: “I’ve arrived, I’m in space.”
During their stay of about 12 days at the ISS, the three will carry out experiments requested from the general public and send information via YouTube. They will return to Earth on Dec. 20, on grasslands in Kazakhstan.
After signing up with a US firm offering space tours by Soyuz spacecraft, Maezawa and Hirano had received training at a facility in a Moscow suburb since June this year.
They became the 13th and 14th Japanese nationals to travel to space. All of their predecessors were qualified astronauts. The first of them, then television journalist Toyohiro Akiyama, flew to space on a Soyuz in December 1990. Maezawa and Hirano became the first Japanese non-astronaut space travelers.
Maezawa has also been informally selected as the first participant in a trip around the moon planned for 2023 by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, of the United States.
He attracted much attention as he solicited eight people to accompany him on the trip.