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First moon passenger to invite guests

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LOS ANGELES—After announcing that he'll take the first-ever commercial rocket trip around the moon, Yusaku Maezawa said he wants company for the week-long journey.

The Japanese billionaire said he plans to invite six-eight artists, architects, designers, and other creative people to join him on board the SpaceX rocket “to inspire the dreamer in all of us.”

The Big Falcon Rocket is scheduled to make the trip in 2023, SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced at an event yesterday at its headquarters near Los Angeles.

Maezawa, 42, said he wants his guests for the lunar orbit “to see the moon up close, and the Earth in full view, and create work to reflect their experience.”

Musk said the entrepreneur, founder of Japan's largest retail website and one of the country's richest people, will pay “a lot of money” for the trip but declined to disclose the exact amount.

Maezawa came to SpaceX with the idea for the group flight, Musk added.

“I did not want to have such a fantastic experience by myself,” said Maezawa, wearing a blue sports jacket over a white T-shirt printed with a work by the late painter Jean-Michel Basquiat.

He said he often mused about what artists like Basquiat or Andy Warhol might have come up with if they had travelled into space.

“I wish to create amazing works of art for humankind,” Maezawa noted.

Maezawa didn't immediately say who will be on his guest list for the spaceflight but in response to a question from a reporter, he said he would consider inviting Musk.

“Maybe we'll both be on it,” Musk said with a smile.

Musk said the BFR still is in development and will make several unmanned test launches before it takes on passengers.

The reusable 118-metre (387-foot) rocket will have its own dedicated passenger ship, and its development is expected to cost about $5 billion, Musk said.

The mission will not involve a lunar landing.

The average distance from Earth to the moon is about 382,500 km. 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.

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

Maezawa, a former musician, founded the retail firm Start Today in 1998 and built it into one of Japan's most successful companies. Then in 2012, he started the Tokyo-based Contemporary Art Foundation to support young artists.

He made headlines in 2016 when he paid more than $57 million at auction for an untitled work by Basquiat.

A year later, he paid more than $110 million auction for another piece by the same artist.

Musk outlined a somewhat different SpaceX lunar mission last year. He said then that two people who know each other approached the company about a week-long flight to the moon and back.

Musk did not name the clients last year or say how much they would pay.

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 era of space tourism began in 2001, when California businessman Dennis Tito paid for a journey on a Russian rocket to the International Space Station.

The trip was organized by the Virginia-based company Space Adventures, which since has sent several more paying customers on spaceflights.

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