Fifty years ago this month, on December 16, 1972, Commander Gene Cernan, Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt and Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans became the last three humans to orbit the Moon as they fired the engine on the command and service module (CSM) and headed back to Earth. NASA's Artemis 1 mission is on its way back from orbiting the Moon as it completes the first step of a project to send humans back there – Artemis 2 is scheduled to put humans in a lunar orbit again in 2024 and the first landing on the lunar surface since 1972 is scheduled for Artemis 3 in 2025 … if all goes well. Those missions will be crewed by the next generation of NASA astronauts – men, women, people of color – with backgrounds in science, the Moon and space travel. It is a safe bet that none of them are DJs, K-Pop artists, actors or professional snowboarders. Those are just some of the occupations of the newly announced crew of the “dearMoon” mission scheduled to travel to and orbit the Moon in a SpaceX Starship vehicle in 2023. Will Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa actually beat NASA in putting humans back into lunar orbit?
“I can’t miss this opportunity. My soul is, is begging for this.”
Well, American DJ Steve Aoki won’t have to do too much begging – his ticket and those of the rest of the eight passengers have been paid for by Japanese fashion mogul Yusaku Maezawa. If that name sounds familiar to space travel fans, Maezawa has been in space before –in December 2021, he and his assistant, Yozo Hirano, flew on a Space Adventures space tourism mission to the International Space Station, where they stayed for 12 days before returning back to Earth in a Soyuz MS-20 capsule. Maezawa used this as a training mission for the lunar flyby mission which he purchased the tickets for back in 2018. At that time, he announced he would give them away to six to eight artists who would travel with him as part of an art project he called “dearMoon.” He may have become disenchanted by the artists sending in applications because, in March 2021, Maezawa opened dearMoon to the general public. While more than one million people applied, it appears Maezawa merely broadened his definition of ‘artist’ to ‘celebrity’ and chose famous people from the fields of music, photography, dance, acting and sports.
“I had deep conversations with each candidate, asking them about their childhood, why they are dreaming about going to space, what kind of challenges they would like to undertake. There isn't a set task for each of them, but I hope each and everyone will recognize the responsibility that comes with leaving the Earth, travelling to the moon and back in seven days. They will gain a lot from this experience, and I hope they will use that to contribute to the planet, to humanity.”
Needless to say, this will not be a scientific mission. However, it will boldly go where no celebrity has gone before – Jeff Bezos has so far limited his Blue Origin missions to taking stars like William “Captain Kirk” Shatner up 60 miles to the defined start of space. On the other hand, Maezawa paid an estimated $80 million to take his carefully selected celebs on a seven-day mission that includes three days of orbiting the Moon – a single trip that will come close to matching the total number of NASA astronauts who have traveled to the Moon and back.
“When I discovered that I was selected, I cried. And I'm not usually much of a crier. I think it was overwhelming and had seemed just so impossible, and even then, it didn't seem real. It did make me think that perhaps I should have played the lottery more.”
Maezawa’s list of celeb-onauts, announced in a video, includes Rhiannon Adam, a British Polaroid photographer and leader in the field of instant photography. That’s not exactly cutting-edge photographic technology … but who argues with a billionaire passing out free tickets to the Moon? Perhaps that high-tech role will be filled by Tim Dodd – this American science communicator, YouTuber, photographer and musician calls himself Everyday Astronaut and has photographed a number of space launches for the website Spaceflight Now. Also looking at the trip through a lens will be Brendan Hall, a documentary filmmaker specializing in nature films … is Maezawa expecting to encounter some aliens? That may also be the reason he chose Karim Iliya, a photographer, drone pilot filmmaker and whale swimming guide.
“When I finally see the moon closer I look forward to my personal growth and returning to the earth as an artist with an inspiration.”
For musical entertainment on the seven day trip, Maezawa is bringing Choi Seung-hyun, known to his worldwide fan base as T.O.P. - a South Korean rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer and actor. With the crew being all male except for Rhiannon Adam, maybe the former singer for the boy band Big Bang can form the first Space Boy Band. For help in that, he can turn to Steve Aoki – a Grammy nominated American DJ, record producer, music programmer, and record executive who in 2021 was the highest-grossing electronic dance music artist in North America. If his name sounds familiar, Aoki’s father founded the Benihana restaurant chain. To help the group cut some moves in weightless outer space, they’ll have Yemi AD – a choreographer, performer and 'social innovator' from the Czech Republic. While all of these people have extensive social media presence, they may be occupied by other things on the trip, so Maezawa selected Dev Dushyant Kumar Joshi – an Indian TV actor and social media influencer. If any of these chosen eight can’t make the trip, the backup crew includes professional American snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington, who won the Olympic Gold Medal in the snowboard halfpipe at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, and Miyu, a Japanese dancer, and choreographer.
Will billionaire wannabe Captain Kirk Yusaku Maezawa and his crew that sounds more like a mobile party than a group of space travelers beat NASA in sending humans back to orbiting the Moon? It is entirely possible but it would be wise to wait before placing any bets. The SpaceX Starship rocket has never been successfully launched and no fully automated mission carrying humans has traveled any farther than the International Space Station. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk seems to have a full plate right now so his attention may not be focused on the dearMoon mission – especially since he’s already collected and probably spent the $80 million Maezawa paid for the tickets. And yet … SpaceX is doing well in launching satellites, shuttling cargo and crews to the ISS and reusing rockets. Perhaps this is what Musk is supposed to be doing.
Good luck to Yusaku Maezawa. This is by far the most eclectic and artistic crew ever in real space travel or science fiction. If Steve Aoiki learned anything from his father, it could have the best food too.