A Japanese billionaire, his producer and a Russian cosmonaut safely returned to Earth on Monday after spending 12 days on the International Space Station.
Fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa, his producer Yozo Hirano and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin made a soft landing in a Russian Soyuz capsule at 9:13 a.m. (0313 GMT) in the steppes of Kazakhstan, about 90 miles southeast of the city of Zhezkazgan.
Low clouds prevented the deployment of search-and-rescue helicopters to the area, so rescue teams reached the landing site in all-terrain vehicles to assist the crew and conduct medical checkups. They reported that the trio was feeling fine.
Later in the day, they will be flown to the Star City space flight preparation facility outside Moscow for post-flight checks and rehabilitation.
Maezawa, 46, and his 36-year-old producer Hirano were the first self-paying tourists to visit the space station since 2009. Misurkin was on his third space mission.
Speaking to The Associated Press last week in a live interview from the orbiting space station, Maezawa said that "once you are in space, you realize how much it is worth it by having this amazing experience."
Asked about reports claiming that he paid over $80 million for the 12-day mission, Maezawa said he couldn’t disclose the contract sum but admitted that he paid "pretty much" that amount.
In October, Russian actor Yulia Peresild and film director Klim Shipenko spent 12 days on the station to make the world’s first movie in orbit, a project sponsored by Russia’s space corporation Roscosmos to help burnish the nation’s reputation for space glory.
Staying behind at the station are NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, Kayla Barron and Mark Vande Hei; Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov; and Matthias Maurer of the European Space Agency.
Speaking to the AP from orbit, Maezawa deflected criticism from those who questioned his decision to spend money on space travel instead of using it to help people back on Earth, saying that "those who criticize are perhaps those who have never been to space."
He said he felt "a little bit of motion sickness" and it was "a little bit difficult to sleep," adding that future space tourists should be prepared to spend up to five days adapting to zero gravity.
Maezawa said he was happy with the length of his trip, saying that "12 days was about right for me" to adapt to the motion sickness and enjoy the rest of the flight.
After asking the public for ideas before the flight, Maezawa had compiled a list of 100 things to do in space that included playing some sports inside the space station such as badminton, table tennis and golf.
Space Adventures, a Virginia-based company that organized his flight, previously sent seven other tourists to the space station between 2001 and 2009.
Maezawa made his fortune in retail fashion, launching Japan’s largest online fashion mall, Zozotown. Forbes magazine has estimated his net worth at $1.9 billion.
The tycoon has also booked a flyby around the moon aboard Elon Musk’s Starship and will be joined on that trip by eight contest winners. He said he plans to undertake that mission in 2023.