TOKYO (AP) — Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa said Friday that K-pop star T.O.P will be among eight people who will join him on a flight around the moon on a SpaceX spaceship in the coming years.
The Japanese tycoon launched plans for the lunar voyage in 2018, buying all the seats on the spaceship. He began taking applications from around the world in March 2021 for what will be his second space journey after his 12-day trip to the International Space Station on the Soyuz Russian spaceship last year.
Maezawa has said the moon trip is aimed for 2023, but most space observers consider the target overly optimistic given that the SpaceX Starship has yet to be launched with its Super Heavy booster or orbit the Earth.
The eight people Maezawa selected for his “dearMoon project” from 1 million applicants are T.O.P, who debuted as a lead rapper for the K-Pop group Big Bang; American DJ Steve Aoki; filmmaker Brendan Hall and YouTuber Tim Dodd, also of the United States. The other four are British photographer Karim Illiya, Indian actor Dev Joshi, Czech artist Yemi AD and Irish photographer Rhiannon Adam. American Olympic snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington and Japanese dancer Miyu were chosen as backups.
T.O.P’s real name is Choi Seung-hyun. The 35-year-old started out as an underground rapper before joining Big Bang, one of the world’s top boy bands, in 2006.
T.O.P said in a video released by the dearMoon website that he has always fantasized about space and the moon since he was a child and, “I cannot wait.”
“When I finally see the moon closer I look forward to my personal growth and returning to the Earth as an artist with an inspiration," he said.
Maezawa made the announcement on Twitter and the dearMoon Project website on Friday, after he tweeted last week saying he held an online meeting with Elon Musk and that his “major announcement about space” was underway.
“More than anything I think it's important that each crew feels they are enjoying this trip the most, so I hope we can all just have fun,” Maezawa said in a video released on the Dear Moon website.
He and the others would be among the first to travel on the SpaceX vehicle, though it still has to clear hurdles, including a liftoff and reaching a low Earth orbit. When achieved, Maezawa's trip is expected to take about a week. The spaceship will not make a lunar landing but is expected to come within 200 kilometers (120 miles) of the moon's surface while circling it for three days.
Last year, Maezawa, 47, and his producer Yozo Hirano became the first self-paying tourists to visit the space station since 2009. He has not disclosed the cost for that mission, though reports said he paid $80 million.
Maezawa made his fortune in retail fashion, launching Japan’s largest online fashion mall, Zozotown. In 2019, he resigned as CEO of the e-commerce company Zozo Inc. to devote his time to space travel. Forbes magazine estimates his wealth at $1.9 billion.
AP Aerospace Writer Marcia Dunn in Cape Canaveral, Florida, contributed to this story.
Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press