Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will fly with a production assistant to the International Space Station on a commercial Soyuz mission. Credit: Space Adventures

WASHINGTON — A Japanese billionaire best known for buying a SpaceX Starship flight around the moon will go to space first on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station, two months after a Russian actress and director visit the station.

Space tourism company Space Adventures and the Russian space agency Roscosmos announced May 13 that Yusaku Maezawa will fly to the ISS on the Soyuz MS-20 mission launching Dec. 8 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. He will be accompanied by a production assistant, Yozo Hirano, on the 12-day flight, commanded by Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin.

“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 chief executive of Space Adventures, said in the statement.

The mission will be the first brokered by Space Adventures, which arranged all previous space tourists to visit the ISS, since Guy Laliberté, the Canadian founder of Cirque du Soleil, flew to the station in 2009. British singer Sarah Brightman was to fly to the station in 2015 through a deal arranged by Space Adventures, but she backed out several months in advance, citing personal issues.

Space Adventures had been working on this mission, the first dedicated commercial Soyuz flight to the station, for some time, but the selection of Maezawa and Hirano was a surprise. Earlier reports suggested that Austrian pilot Johanna Maislinger and Japanese entertainer Yumi Matsutoya would fly on Soyuz MS-20.

Maezawa, an entrepreneur who made billions with the Japanese online apparel retailer Zozo, is best known in the space industry for his 2018 decision to buy a SpaceX Starship circumlunar flight. He said he planned to fly on that mission along with eight artists.

In March, Maezawa announced a contest to choose the people who will accompany him on that “dearMoon” mission, scheduled for 2023. That process is scheduled to conclude with the selection of the crew by the end of June, but the project has not provided any public updates since late March, and few details in general about the process it will use to determine who will accompany Maezawa.

“I’m so curious, ‘what’s life like in space’? So, I am planning to find out on my own and share with the world on my YouTube channel,” Maezawa said in the Space Adventures statement, which added that Hirano “will be responsible for documenting Mr. Maezawa’s mission.”

Maezawa said he was still planning to fly on Starship around the moon. “Going to the ISS before the Moon,” he tweeted.

The announcement of the Space Adventures flight came the same day that Roscosmos announced actress Yulia Peresild will accompany director Klim Shipenko and Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov on the Soyuz MS-19 mission to the ISS, launching Oct. 5.

Peresild and Shipenko will spend 12 days on the station, shooting scenes for a Russian movie called “Vyzov” (“The Challenge”) that Roscosmos is producing with a Russian network, First Channel. The two will return on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft currently at the station with Oleg Novitsky.

Novitsky launched on Soyuz MS-18 April 9 with Russian cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov and American astronaut Mark Vande Hei. Dubrov and Vande Hei will have to remain on the station for an extended mission because their seats will be occupied by Peresild and Shipenko.

Vande Hei, formally added to Soyuz MS-18 just a month before launch after NASA and Roscosmos worked out a deal for a seat that involved a third party, Axiom Space, said before launch that he was aware he could stay longer than the typical six-month increment on the station. “Honestly, for me it’s just an opportunity for a new life experience. I’ve never been in space longer than six months,” he said. “I’m really enthusiastic about it.”

Peresild, an actress who has appeared extensively in Russian television and film, was one of four finalists for the mission. Another actress, Alena Mordovina, will train as the backup for the mission. A third finalist, Galina Kairova, a pilot and amateur actress, was invited by Roscosmos to train to become a professional cosmonaut.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...