HAWTHORNE (California)/ TOKYO • SpaceX, Mr Elon Musk's space transportation company, has named its first private passenger on a voyage around the Moon - Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, the founder and chief executive of online fashion retailer Zozo.
A former drummer in a punk band, Mr Maezawa is tentatively planning to make his Moon flight in 2023 aboard SpaceX's forthcoming Big Falcon Rocket spaceship, taking the race to commercialise space travel to new heights.
Only 24 astronauts have flown beyond Earth's protective magnetic shield, in missions spanning a four-year period from December 1968 to December 1972.
Mr Maezawa's identity was revealed at an event on Monday evening at the company's headquarters and rocket factory in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne.
"He's a very brave person to do this," Mr Musk said of the Japanese entrepreneur.
Most famous outside Japan for his record-breaking US$110 million (S$150.7 million) purchase of an untitled 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, Mr Maezawa said he would invite six to eight artists to join him on the lunar flyby.
Mr Musk said the Big Falcon Rocket, or BFR - the super heavy-lift launch vehicle that he promises will shuttle passengers to the Moon and eventually fly humans and cargo to Mars - could be conducting its first orbital flights in two to three years.
The chief executive of electric carmaker Tesla has previously said he wants the rocket to be ready for an unpiloted trip to Mars in 2022, with a crewed flight in 2024, though his ambitious production targets have been known to slip.
Musk had previously said he wanted the rocket to be ready for an unpiloted trip to Mars in 2022, with a crewed flight in 2024, though his ambitious production targets have been known to slip.
"It's not 100 per cent certain we can bring this to flight," Mr Musk said of the lunar mission.
The amount Mr Maezawa is paying for the trip was not disclosed, but he told Reuters the total sum was "much higher" than the cost of a Basquiat painting.
Mr Musk said Mr Maezawa had outlaid a significant deposit and would have a material impact on the cost of developing the BFR, which he estimated at US$5 billion.
Mr Maezawa, 42, is one of Japan's most colourful executives and is a regular fixture in the country's gossipy weeklies with his collection of foreign and Japanese art, fast cars and celebrity girlfriend. He made his fortune by founding the wildly popular shopping site Zozotown. His company, Zozo, officially called Start Today, also offers a made-to-measure service using a polka dot bodysuit, the Zozosuit.