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Japanese Tourists Visit International Space Station

A Japanese billionaire and his producer rocketed to space on Wednesday and reached the International Space Station several hours later, the first visit by self-paying space tourists to the orbiting outpost in more than a decade.

Fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa and producer Yozo Hirano, who plans to film his mission, blasted off for the International Space Station in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft along with Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin.

The trio lifted off as scheduled at 12:38 p.m. (0738 GMT) aboard Soyuz MS-20 from the Russia-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan and successfully docked at the orbiting outpost almost six hours later.

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Yusaku Maezawa gestures prior to the launch at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. (Pavel Kassin, Roscosmos Space Agency via AP)

In several more hours, the crew will be able to open the hatches and move to the space station from the Soyuz.

Maezawa and Hirano are scheduled to spend 12 days in space. The two are the first self-paying tourists to visit the space station since 2009. The price of the trip hasn’t been disclosed.

“I would like to look at the Earth from space. I would like to experience the opportunity to feel weightlessness,” Maezawa said during a pre-flight news conference on Tuesday. “And I also have a personal expectation: I’m curious how the space will change me, how I will change after this space flight.”

The Soyuz MS-20 spaceship carrying Yusaku Maezawa blasts off from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. (Roscosmos Space Agency via AP)

A company that organized the flight said Maezawa compiled a list of 100 things to do in space after asking the public for ideas. The list includes “simple things about daily life to maybe some other fun activities, to more serious questions as well,” Space Adventures President Tom Shelley said.

“His intention is to try to share the experience of what it means to be in space with the general public,” Shelley told The Associated Press earlier this year.

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Alexander Misurkin, center, Yusaku Maezawa, right, and Yozo Hirano pose prior to the launch Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. (Pavel Kassin, Roscosmos Space Agency via AP)

Maezawa made his fortune in retail fashion, launching Japan’s largest online fashion mall, Zozotown. Forbes magazine estimated his net worth at $2 billion.

The tycoon has also booked a flyby around the moon aboard Elon Musk’s Starship that is tentatively scheduled in the next few years. He’ll be joined on that trip by eight contest winners.