Japanese billionaire Maezawa blasts off to International Space Station

Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa reacts as he speaks with his family after donning space suits shortly before the launch to the International Space Station (ISS) at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, December 8, 2021. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (Reuters) - Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa blasted off to the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday in his first space flight, a voyage he sees as a dry-run for his planned trip around the moon with Elon Musk's SpaceX in 2023.

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying the 46-year-old fashion magnate and art collector successfully launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and will reach the ISS in about six hours, Russian space agency Roscosmos said.

On his 12-day journey into space, Maezawa is being accompanied by his assistant Yozo Hirano, who will document the journey, as well as Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin.

Maezawa, the first Japanese tourist to visit the ISS, is also set to become the first private passenger on the SpaceX moon trip, as commercial firms such as Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin usher in a new age of space travel for wealthy clients.

Maezawa has already begun searching for eight people to join him on his 2023 moon voyage, requiring applicants to pass medical tests and an interview.

(Reporting by Shamil Zhumatov; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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