Russian Rocket Blasts Off Carrying Japanese Billionaire To The ISS
Baikonur, Kazakhstan, Dec 8 (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 8th Dec, 2021 ) :A Russian rocket lifted off on Wednesday carrying a Japanese billionaire to the International Space Station, marking the country's return to space tourism after a decade-long pause that saw the rise of competition from US companies.
Online fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa and his production assistant Yozo Hirano blasted off from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 0738 GMT, an AFP correspondent at the scene reported.
Their journey aboard the three-person Soyuz spacecraft piloted by cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin will take just over six hours, capping a banner year that many have seen as a turning point for private space travel.
A crowd at the launch site -- including Maezawa's family and friends -- braved freezing temperatures and cheered as the rocket blasted off into the grey sky, leaving a trail of orange flames before disappearing in the clouds.
"This has been a long process. It's so moving. I was about to cry," said Ryo Okubo, 46, a lawyer for Maezawa's space projects.
"I'm really excited but he's also my friend so I'm worried about him," a longtime friend of the billionaire, 44-year-old Hiroyuki Sugimoto, told AFP.
Among the revellers was a family-of-three who won spots at the launch from out of a million applicants. The brother and sister were holding hand-drawn banners with Maezawa's face inside a sunflower and a picture of a rocket.
After docking at the Poisk module of the Russian segment of the ISS, the trio will spend 12 days on the station. The Japanese tourists will document their daily life aboard the ISS for Maezawa's popular YouTube channel.
The ISS is home to an international crew of seven people including two Russian cosmonauts and a Japanese astronaut.
He and his assistant are the first private Japanese citizens to visit space since journalist Toyohiro Akiyama travelled to the Mir station in 1990.
In partnership with US-based company Space Adventures, the Roscosmos space agency previously took seven tourists to the ISS since 2001 -- one of them twice.
"It's been 12 years. We've had to be very patient. We've had to be very creative. So, this is the culmination of a lot of effort from a lot of different people," Tom Shelley, president of Space Adventures, told AFP shortly after liftoff.
Moscow had stopped sending tourists to space after NASA retired its Space Shuttle in 2011, which left Russia with a monopoly on supplying the ISS.
That changed last year when a SpaceX spacecraft successfully delivered its first astronauts to the ISS.
Roscosmos has said it plans to continue growing its space tourism business, already commissioning two Soyuz rockets for such trips.
"We will not give this niche to the Americans. We are ready to fight for it," Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin said following the launch Wednesday.
Earlier this year, a Crew Dragon capsule took an all-civilian mission on a three-day trip around the Earth's orbit in a historic first.
Also hot on Russia's heels are Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin and billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, which completed their maiden tourist voyages this year.