SpaceX announces BFR lunar passenger, mission for Earth’s artists

by Chris Gebhardt

SpaceX has revealed the name of the passenger who has paid for a circumlunar navigation voyage aboard the company’s under construction BFR (Big Falcon Rocket) vehicle.  Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese entrepreneur, purchased an entire BFR rocket with plans to ask a handful of artists to join him on his journey – artists who can then create works to inspire others to dream.

The traveller(s) and the flight:

After giving an update on the BFR’s overall architectural changes (for which NASASpaceflight will publish an in-depth article later), Elon Musk, founder, CEO, and Lead Designer at SpaceX, introduced the person who purchased an entire BFR for a flight around the moon.

(Click here to read NASASpaceflight’s extensive overview of the evolution of the BFR.)

That person, Yusaku Maezawa, is a Japanese billionaire and entrepreneur who stated at the event that as a child “the moon filled my imagination.  It’s always there. I could not pass up the opportunity to see the moon.”

BFR’s first paying astronaut

Arguably, the part no one expected came when Maezawa said that he didn’t want to experience the flight alone.  “I want to share this.”

Maezawa will invite six to eight artists of different professional and personal backgrounds – artists who represent the whole of humanity – to join him on the lunar flyby mission… with the only stipulation to their involvement being that they create works thereafter that “inspire the dreamer in all of us.”

“I thought about how [this flight] could contribute to world peace,” said Maezawa.

The BFR artist-filled flight will launch on its roughly six day mission No Earlier Than (NET) 2023 – a date Mr. Musk cautioned in the following Q&A session was not set in stone.

The flight will only launch after the completion of BFR hopper tests, which Mr. Musk confirmed are still targeted to begin next year.

After that, the BFR will move on to larger scale tests – with Mr. Musk noting that the entire BFR system will be tested in an uncrewed configuration before Maezawa and his fellow passengers embark on their voyage around the moon.

Lunar flight profile – via SpaceX

Whether or not SpaceX will fly an uncrewed BFR on a lunar free return trajectory mission – flying the exact profile it will with Maezawa and his passengers – before Maezawa’s mission has not yet been determined.

What is known is that the flight is expected to reach a distance from Earth of between 500,000 to 650,000 km (310,685 to 403,890 mi), making Maezawa and his passengers the farthest-travelling humans from Earth.

The current record was set on 15 April 1970 by the three-person crew of Apollo 13, who made it 400,171 km (248,655 mi) from Earth as their crippled craft swung around the dark side of the moon.

During the BFR flight, Maezawa – and certainly some of his other passengers – will become the first non-Americans to travel to the moon.

People that may ride on the BFR flight.

Notable is the fact that Maezawa wishes to take people whose professions have – to date – prevented them from accessing space.

The world’s federal space agencies have always mandated a background in some kind of scientific field for minimum consideration in the astronaut corps – excluding artists of all kinds whose fields lay outside engineering and science.

That now stands to change with BFR and signals a synergy between SpaceX and Maezawa in terms of using the BFR architecture to make space accessible to everyone.

Switching the lunar passenger flight from Falcon Heavy to BFR:

Originally, Maezawa had purchased from SpaceX a circumlunar voyage to be completed using the company’s Crew Dragon atop SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket – which conducted its highly successful maiden flight on 6 February 2018 from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center, sending Mr. Musk’s cherry red Tesla Roadster into a slightly-farther than Mars distance heliocentric (around the Sun) orbit.

First announced on 27 February 2017, the Falcon Heavy/Crew Dragon customer mission would have seen two private citizens – one of them Maezawa and the other a chosen passenger of his – launched into a lunar free-return trajectory for a flyby of the moon and return to Earth.

Falcon Heavy’s maiden flight was shown as part of SpaceX’s evolution towards BFR.

During the announcement last year, SpaceX noted that, “We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year,” with the company further noting that the two individuals had already paid a significant deposit for the moon mission.

“We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year.  Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest, and we expect more to follow.”

At the time, the name of the people who purchased the seats remained confidential – with confirmation that Maezawa was the sole person to buy the two seats only coming at the event this evening.

That Falcon Heavy/Crew Dragon flight was originally slated to occur in the later half of 2018.

Dragon 2 – by Nathan Koga for NSF/L2

Despite some individual claims that the mission would not have happened on schedule (claims only supported much later by the eventual slip of the first Crew Dragon Demo flight to November 2018), SpaceX never officially moved the mission from its target 2018 date before cancelling the Falcon Heavy/Dragon components of the mission all together on 5 February 2018 – just three weeks shy of the one year anniversary of the announcement.

Speaking to reporters via teleconference the day before Falcon Heavy’s maiden voyage, Mr. Musk – with no forewarning – announced that the Falcon Heavy rocket would not be human rated and would not be used to carry crew.

When asked about the paid-for circumlunar navigation flight, Mr. Musk stated that the flight would be switching to BFR, would generally follow the same flight profile (free return trajectory), and would take place No Earlier Than 2019.

“This would be a long loop around the moon,” stated Mr. Musk in regard to the private citizen flight of BFR.  “It would skim the surface of the moon, go quite a bit further out into deep space, and then loop back to Earth.”

BFR staging – via SpaceX

At the BFR announcement this evening, Mr. Musk and Maezawa confirmed that the primary reason the mission switched to BFR was to increase the number of artists who could join Maezawa on the flight.

With this evening’s announcement and more concrete details regarding BFR, SpaceX takes another important and public step in the company’s ongoing drive to build and use the BFR rockets – in large part – to establish a permanent human colony on Mars.

That would fulfill Elon Musk’s goal of making humanity a multiplanetary species.

At the event this evening, Mr. Musk talked about BFR not just from that multiplanetary perspective, but about the hope it could bring.  He said about BFR, it’s “making people excited about the future – about getting up in the morning.”

NASASpaceflight will publish an in-depth article on the new elements of BFR announced this evening in the coming days.

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