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SpaceX announces Japanese billionaire as 1st private moon flight passenger

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Posted at 4:39 PM, Sep 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-17 22:12:42-04

LOS ANGELES (AP) — SpaceX announced Monday the first private passenger on a trip around the moon during an event at the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa says he will invite six to eight artists, architects, designers and other creative people on a weeklong journey to circumnavigate the moon.

Maezawa said Monday that the SpaceX BFR rocket will make the trip in 2023.

The 42-year-old entrepreneur says he wants his guests to be inspired to create once they return to Earth.

SpaceX said it would be "an important step toward enabling access for everyday people who dream of traveling to space."

SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk outlined a somewhat different mission last year.

Musk said two people who know each other approached the company about a weeklong flight to the moon and back.

He had said that the trip would happen this year and would not involve a landing, but rather a long loop around the moon. Musk did not name the clients last year or say how much they would pay.

Musk said the pair had paid a "significant" deposit and were "entering this with their eyes open, knowing that there is some risk here."

That original mission would have used a Falcon Heavy rocket — the most powerful rocket flying today — and a Dragon crew capsule similar to the one NASA astronauts will use to fly to the International Space Station as early as next year.

The new SpaceX strategy is to still fly around the moon without landing, but use an even bigger rocket still in development that has its own dedicated passenger ship. The rocket dubbed BFR has not been built so any flight presumably is at least several years away.

On its website, SpaceX is touting the "first passenger on lunar BFR mission," implying there will be more moon trips.

Astronauts last visited the moon during NASA's Apollo program. Twenty-four men flew to the moon from 1968 through 1972 and half of them made it to the lunar surface.

The space agency is planning its own lunar flyby with a crew around 2023.

It also aims to build a staffed gateway near the moon during the 2020s. The outpost would serve as a stepping-off point for the lunar surface, Mars and points beyond.

SpaceX has had a string of successful rocket launches, but that has been overshadowed by the struggles of Musk's Tesla electric car company to deliver and his behavior.

He recently criticized analysts during a Tesla earnings conference call, labeled a British diver in the recent Thai cave rescue drama as a pedophile, took a hit off an apparent marijuana-tobacco joint during a podcast interview and tweeted that he had funding to take Tesla private but then announced the deal was off.

Two high executives announced departures from Tesla, and the diver sued Musk on Monday. Last month he told the New York Times he was overwhelmed by job stress.

The British diver, Vernon Unsworth, sued Musk for defamation on Monday and is seeking more than $75,000.

Musk and SpaceX engineers built a small submarine and shipped it to Thailand to help with the rescue. The device wasn't used and in the interview, Unsworth called it a "PR stunt" and said it wouldn't have worked to free the boys who were trapped in the flooded cave.