Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has returned to Earth after a 12-day journey into space, ending a practice run for his planned trip around the moon with founder Elon Musk’s SpaceX in 2023.
The 46-year-old fashion tycoon and his assistant, Yozo Hirano, parachuted onto Kazakhstan’s steppe at 03:13 GMT on Monday, along with Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin.
“The flight of the ‘tourist’ spacecraft ‘Soyuz MS-20’ has been completed,” Russia’s space agency said in a statement on its website.
The Japanese travellers launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on December 8, becoming the first space tourists to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) in more than 10 years.
When they arrived on the ISS, they joined a seven-team crew who were engaged in space biology and physics research.
One of Japan’s most flamboyant public figures, Maezawa entertained his social media followers from space by taking photos of his home prefecture of Chiba, showing how to brush teeth and make tea in zero gravity.
— Yusaku Maezawa (MZ) (@yousuckMZ) December 20, 2021
— Yusaku Maezawa (MZ) (@yousuckMZ) December 19, 2021
The entrepreneur and his assistant returned to snowy conditions on Earth, with precipitation and sub-zero temperatures at the landing site about 150km (93 miles) southeast of the town of Zhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan.
Their return caps a banner year that many have seen as a turning point for private space travel.
Billionaires Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson all made breakthrough commercial tourism flights this year.
In 2023, Maezawa will become the first private passenger on the SpaceX moon trip.
The billionaire, who sold his online fashion business Zozo to SoftBank in 2019, is searching for eight people who will join him in his moon voyage in 2023, requiring applicants to pass medical tests and an interview.