The ISS tourists Yusaku Maezawa (l.) And Yozo Hirano (r.) With the cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin
Photo: Roscosmos Press Service / EPA
Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson recently shared the business with space tourists.
The space companies of the three billionaires almost regularly fly people into space or at least to the edge.
Now Russia is also getting involved again - and offers a paying customer much more than a lightning excursion into weightlessness.
The Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and his assistant Yozo Hirano are expected to spend two weeks on the International Space Station (ISS).
Their journey began on Wednesday from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan.
It is the first time in twelve years that the Roscosmos space agency has taken tourists to the ISS.
The flight to the ISS should take more than six hours.
The cosmonaut Alexander Missurkin was also a professional on board the Soyuz rocket.
TV images showed how the MS-20 spacecraft took off from the launch pad as planned in winter weather and rose into the cloudy sky.
"The flight is going normally," reported the flight control center.
"Dreams come true," Maezawa tweeted before departure.
"The International Space Station will be my home for two weeks." Private individuals on board the station around 400 kilometers above the earth have been rare in recent years.
With the two Japanese, the number of tourists transported by Roskosmos rises to nine.
One reason for the low number is that the Russian missiles took US astronauts to the ISS for many years.
In addition, the costs of such trips are still immense.
"We're talking tens of millions of dollars," said Tom Shelley, head of Space Adventures, a US company specializing in space tourism.
According to him, between 44 million and 53 million euros are due per person and flight.
"It sounds very expensive, but ultimately it's a priceless opportunity."
It is not known exactly how expensive the flight to the ISS will be for the two Japanese.
According to Forbes, 46-year-old Maezawa is one of the 30 richest people in Japan with private assets of around 1.7 billion euros.
He started shipping CDs in 1998.
The entrepreneur later made his living selling clothes on the Internet.
"The toughest training ever"
Maezawa recently made a name for himself as a space enthusiast.
He documented his three-month training to prepare for the time in weightlessness on Twitter.
"It's the toughest training ever." He posted a picture of himself on a constantly rotating chair.
"The swivel chair - almost feels like torture."
"I have a list of a hundred things I want to do on the ward, like play badminton," he said.
755,000 users are already following him on YouTube.
In the social networks he wants to report on his impressions in weightlessness.
For the eccentric fashion entrepreneur and art collector, staying in the space station is just a first step towards much more ambitious plans.
He wants to fly around the moon on a private SpaceX flight in 2023 and had been looking for companions in a worldwide appeal.
Gifts for the ISS cosmonauts
The hustle and bustle of space tourism should come in handy for Russia.
Roskosmos wants to bring more private individuals into space in the future - and above all earn money with them.
Since the US space agency Nasa has been flying its astronauts to the ISS in private spaceships, there have been vacancies in the Russian Soyuz capsules.
A Russian film team attracted attention in the fall, having flown to the ISS for a short shoot after just a few weeks of training.
The USA also made spectacular flights: Almost two months ago "Star Trek" icon William Shatner flew into space - the former "Captain Kirk" actor.
The 90-year-old Canadian actor went on a 10-minute excursion on board a "New Shepard" space capsule from the Blue Origin company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
The cosmonauts of the ISS are likely to have expected the spaceship for another reason: According to Roskosmos, there were New Year's gifts on board.
Among them are letters from families and friends and "homemade delicacies".
The 162 kilogram luggage also contained materials for research and experiments, hygiene articles, food and 13 kilograms of fresh fruit.
fww / dpa / AFP