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Japanese billionaire heads to space on first 'tourist' trip to ISS since 2009

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Japanese billionaire heads to space on first 'tourist' trip to ISS since 2009
The crew of Soyuz MS-20 lifts off from Kazakhstan on its way to the International Space Station. Photo courtesy Roscosmos/Twitter

Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa ventured into space aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule on Wednesday, making his the first self-funded mission to the International Space Station in about a decade.

Maezawa, founder of online Japanese fashion retailer Zozo, was joined on the flight by his production assistant and videographer Yozo Hirano, who will capture the cosmic experience on camera. Veteran Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin is commanding the mission.

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The rocket lifted off from Kazakhstan before dawn on Wednesday and was expected to reach the space station in about six hours.

Maezawa will spend almost two weeks in space with Hirano and Russian astronaut Alexander Misurkin. During the mission, he will perform a number of tasks from a list of 100 challenges, such as getting a haircut in zero-gravity conditions and playing table tennis.

Worth about $3.4 billion, Maezawa has also said that he plans to give money away while he's in space.

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Maezawa became the 14th Japanese citizen to travel into space. Japanese television journalist Akiyama Toyohiro was the first, traveling to the Russian space station Mir in 1990. Scientist Mohri Mamoru was Japan's first astronaut to make it to space.

Space Adventures, which brokered Maezawa's flight, booked eight private space flights on Russian rockets between 2001 and 2009. Those trips mostly ended when NASA bought many of the open Russian seats after the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

Some of the private seats, however, have again become available since NASA partnered with SpaceX for missions to give astronauts another mode of travel to the ISS.

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"We are excited for Maezawa-san, and we are honored to have enabled this opportunity for him to fly to space," Eric Anderson, chairman and CEO of Space Adventures, said earlier this year.

"The first tourist mission to the ISS in a decade! Welcome to space, Yusaku."

Maezawa's is the first private "tourist" trip to the International Space Station since French entrepreneur Guy Laliberte went in 2009. It wasn't disclosed exactly how much Maezawa paid for the trip.

Out-of-this-world images from space

The International Space Station is pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour during a flyaround of the orbiting lab that took place following its undocking from the Harmony module’s space-facing port on November 8. Photo courtesy of NASA

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