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A Japanese astronaut is in talks to join SpaceX's artist-filled Starship mission around the moon

soichi noguchi japanese astronaut jaxa spacex spacesuit portrait crew 1 dragon spaceship mission jsc2020e040988_orig
Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi is slated to fly on the first operational SpaceX Crew Dragon mission, called Crew-1, but is also hoping to join a lunar flight.
  • SpaceX plans to launch a mission around the moon in 2023 with its reusable steel Starship vehicle.
  • Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is funding the private voyage, called #dearMoon, and plans to bring along a handful of artists plus an astronaut or two.
  • Soichi Noguchi, a JAXA astronaut who's slated to fly on SpaceX's upcoming Crew-1 mission, say he's talking to Maezawa about possibly joining the circumlunar flight.
  • "Who knows? I may have a chance to fly," Noguchi told Business Insider
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

SpaceX aims to slingshot a small group of people around the moon inside Starship, the company's forthcoming Mars spacecraft, sometime in the next few years.

Who will make the week-long circumlunar voyage is yet to be announced. But Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi — who's about to fly aboard SpaceX's second human mission to the International Space Station, called Crew-1 — tells Business Insider he's actively discussing a spot on the mission.

The only publicly confirmed passenger for SpaceX's private moon mission is Japanese fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa, who's paying untold millions for the experience. In September 2018, SpaceX hosted a press conference for Maezawa in its rocket factory with company founder Elon Musk at his side.

billionaire yusaku maezawa zozo spacex starship model spacesuit helmet october 2018 AP_18282143630905
Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese fashion billionaire, poses with a Starship model and SpaceX spacesuit helmet before a news conference in Tokyo on October 9, 2018.
"Finally I can tell you that I choose to go to the moon," Maezawa said during his debut.

"He's paying a lot of money that would help with the ship and its booster," Musk said at the time. "He's ultimately paying for the average citizen to travel to other planets."

In fact, Maezawa bought all of the available seats on the lunar demonstration flight of Starship — a roughly 16-story steel spacecraft — and is hand-picking the entire crew of his mission, called #dearMoon.

Maezawa, an avid art collector and rock musician, says he hopes to launch "an awe-inspiring, global, universal art project" by flying up to eight artists at no cost to them. Those selected, he said, may include musicians, sculptors, painters, film directors, dancers, photographers, architects, novelists, and fashion designers.

"What I want to do is show the people of Earth just how beautiful our planet is by taking artists up there," Maezawa told CNN in 2018, according to a translation, "so that they can convey the beauty to the world in their words." 

So far, Maezawa has spoken publicly about the mission with former Beatle Ringo Starr, "First Man" director Damien Chazelle, and actor Ryan Gosling (who declined). Musk also said he'd consider flying on the mission.

But the SpaceX CEO apparently told Maezawa to bring along seasoned spaceflight professionals since the mission will be dangerous. "After a press conference, we talked a lot at Elon's home. He said that it would be reliable if 1-2 astronauts will be on board," Maezawa tweeted in 2018.

Astronaut Scott Kelly has raised his hand, though Noguchi could be a shoo-in for the unprecedented flight, if it happens, and tells Business Insider that he's already in talks about that possibility.

'We've had a lot of discussions' about #dearMoon

soichi noguchi victor glover shannon walker nasa jaxa astronauts spacex spacesuits portrait crew 1 dragon spaceship mission KSC 20200924 PH SPX01_0009_orig
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts participate in crew equipment interface testing at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, on Sept. 24, 2020.

Noguchi, 55 and the father of three children, is among Earth's more experienced active astronauts. He first flew to space in 2005 aboard NASA's space shuttle Discovery — the first to return to flight after the deadly breakup of space shuttle Columbia in 2003. Noguchi's second mission was on a smaller Russian Soyuz vehicle in 2009, which took him to the International Space Station for a six-month stay.

Crew-1 would be Noguchi's third flight, and is slated to launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on October 31 around 2:40 a.m. ET. If all goes according to plan, a freshly redesigned Crew Dragon spaceship, named "Resilience" by the astronauts, will fly toward the ISS, dock there for up to seven months, and then return to Earth.

Should the NASA-funded mission go smoothly, Noguchi will add SpaceX's Crew Dragon vehicle to his resume and become only the third person to fly in three different spaceships. He'd also tick up his career flight time to a year or more in space.

Noguchi is also fluent in English, Russian, and Japanese, a potentially important factor for Maezawa, who has publicly lamented his English-speaking abilities and seeks to fly a distinctly international crew.

"We've had a lot of discussions with him [and] his team," Noguchi told Business Insider during a preflight interview when asked if he was speaking to Maezawa about the flight. "He has a very sincere interest in spaceflight."

A spokesperson for Maezawa told Business Insider that they "are unable to provide any comments at this time" due to a non-disclosure agreement between "the companies involved" with #dearMoon. The spokesperson did not immediately clarify which companies those might be, though SpaceX routinely makes parties that it works with sign such agreements.

spacex starship moon lunar circumlunar flyby mission diagram path illustration yusaku maezawa 2023
A diagram showing SpaceX's planned 2023 voyage around the moon with its Starship spaceship.

For now, Noguchi says he's focused on completing the Crew-1 mission aboard Crew Dragon, which is still considered an experimental space vehicle. "Learning how to fly Dragon is definitely a big challenge and also quite an excitement," he said.

But Noguchi has been closely following SpaceX's progress with Starship. The company is developing the roughly 16-story spaceship and its 23-story booster rocket, called Super Heavy, at a private rocket-ship skunkworks in southeastern Texas. SpaceX expects the system will be fully reusable, fly several miles into the sky this fall, start launching commercial payloads to orbit in 2021 (pending a forthcoming environmental review), and make its first crewed flight around the moon in 2023 — the one Noguchi hopes to join with Maezawa — before beginning the first voyages to Mars the year after.

"I'm really looking forward to talking to him after this mission," Noguchi said of completing Crew-1 and discussing a flight on #dearMoon. "Who knows? I may have a chance to fly."

Do you have a story or inside information to share about the space industry? Email Dave Mosher at dmosher+tips@businessinsider.com, send a Twitter direct message to @davemosher, or consider more secure communication options listed here.

Read the original article on Business Insider


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