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Steve Aoki, K-pop star T.O.P to fly around moon with Japanese billionaire

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is paying for eight other people to join him on a trip around the moon. (Pavel Kassin/Roscosmos Space Agency/AP)

Japanese billionaire and space enthusiast Yusaku Maezawa on Friday released the names of eight people — including American DJ Steve Aoki and K-pop star Choi Seung-hyun, better known as T.O.P — who will join him on a commercial space flight around the moon that is planned for next year.

The trip, dubbed the “Dear Moon” project, will mark the first civilian lunar orbital mission, according to Maezawa. Space travel has long been the domain of nation states, but billionaires such as Tesla’s Elon Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (who owns The Washington Post) have recently spent heavily on making such trips a reality for extremely affluent civilians.

The 10 people Maezawa picked — including two backup crew members — were selected from 1 million applicants, he said. Their seats were paid for by Maezawa, whose net worth stood at $1.7 billion as of Friday, according to Forbes.

The crew will use a reusable launch vehicle developed by SpaceX, the American company founded by Musk that has expanded civilian use of space. The ship will not land on the moon, but fly around it before returning to Earth. The trip is expected to last just under six days.

Maezawa, like Musk, has a big presence on Twitter. He holds the Guinness World Record for the most retweeted post and announced the news on the social media platform. In the January 2019 tweet, Maezawa offered to give 1 million Japanese yen, worth about $9,000 at the time, to 100 people each as an expression of thanks for “astonishing sales” at his business. People who wanted to stand a chance at winning the prize had to retweet the post and follow him.

Aoki and T.O.P are part of a multinational cast that also includes a British photographer, a Czech performer and an Indian actor. American Olympic snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington was named among the backup crew.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft flies by the moon, 81 miles above the surface

“Life is crazy,” Aoki said in footage that depicted the moment he was told he had been selected. “I’m going to go to the … moon!”

Maezawa, who made his fortune by founding a Japanese online retailer, announced that he was heading to the moon outside Space X’s Los Angeles headquarters in 2018. He said then that he would select up to eight artists to join him on the trip, and expressed hope that the trip would lead them to create inspirational art.

On Friday, Maezawa repeated that hope as he announced the crew, saying he was “excited to see what inspiring creations they come up with in space.”

The billionaire also ran a contest seeking a “life partner” to join him on his moon trip, though Maezawa later canceled the competition.

In April, SpaceX launched its first all-private mission to the International Space Station, with its three customers paying $55 million each. Last year, Blue Origin, a SpaceX competitor owned by Bezos, flew the multibillionaire, his brother and two others, setting a record for both the oldest and youngest person to fly to space.

Maezawa himself traveled to the International Space Station last year with a cameraman and assistant, flying on a Soyuz spacecraft that launched from Kazakhstan. He posted videos of his stay in space on his YouTube channel. He played with a yo-yo, painted and flew a paper plane while away from Earth.

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