EFEMoscow

Russia launched Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant Yozo Hirano to the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday, as tourists returned to the international orbital platform for the first time in 12 years.

Soyuz MS-20 departed on time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 07:38 GMT, with the two Japanese crew members and the Russian spacecraft commander, cosmonaut Alexandr Misurkin on board.

A few minutes later the spacecraft separated smoothly from the rocket and continued its flight to the ISS.

The flight is the first time two space tourists have traveled to the ISS on the same spacecraft and the first space tourist flight to the orbital platform since 2009, when Canadian Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil, last set foot on the station.

Maezawa, 46, one of Japan’s wealthiest men according to Forbes, and Hirano will stay on the station for 12 days. Maezawa’s assistant will film his boss’s adventure in space for his YouTube channel.

Also on board are 162 kilograms of cargo, including materials for experiments, hygiene products, food rations and 13 kilograms of fresh fruit, as well as letters, gifts from friends and family for the two cosmonauts already on the ISS.

Two hours after docking, the hatches will open and the three crew members will be greeted by the current tenants of the international orbital platform: cosmonauts Anton Skaplerov and Piotr Dubrov, NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron, as well as European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer.

The Japanese entrepreneur and his assistant began training for the flight in the summer.

"We have been training for 100 days," Maezawa said Tuesday at a press conference, adding that he will have "a hundred tasks" once on the orbital platform, which he will inform the public about.

As for the first thing he will do aboard the ISS, Maezawa joked: "Go to the bathroom".

"The flight will be very long," he added. EFE

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