Tokyo (AFP)

It's the kind of opportunity that comes only once: Eccentric Japanese billionaire offers eight tickets to people around the world to accompany him on a space tourism trip around the moon, slated for 2023 with SpaceX .

Yusaku Maezawa, online fashion mogul, contemporary art collector and patron, was the first private client to book a flight aboard Starship, a future home rocket developed by US aerospace firm Elon Musk, to an undisclosed amount.

Initially, he planned to find a girlfriend for his flight around the Moon, by launching a strange contest with "single women aged 20 and over".

He then changed his plans, not without having attracted nearly 30,000 applications, saying he wanted to invite six to eight artists instead.

In a video posted on his Twitter account on Wednesday, the billionaire, 45, finally opted for a broader hiring policy, saying he now believes "everyone who does something creative can be called an artist."

Applicants will only need to meet two criteria, he said: be willing to "push the limits" of creativity and be willing to help other crew members do the same.

In all, about 10 to 12 people are expected to participate in the expedition supposed to circle the moon before returning to Earth, Maezawa said.

The schedule calls for aspiring astronauts to pre-register by March 14, with a first selection due a week later.

- Elon Musk "very confident" -

No deadline is given for the next steps - a "mission" and an online discussion - but final interviews and medical exams are scheduled for late May this year, according to the billionaire's website.

Mr. Maezawa and his companions will become the first lunar travelers since the last American Apollo mission in 1972, at least if SpaceX is able to complete this project on time.

Two prototypes of his Starship rocket have crashed on landing in recent months.

“I am very confident that we will reach the orbital level with Starship before 2023 and that the safety will be sufficient for human flight in 2023. It is very promising,” Elon Musk said in Mr. Maezawa's video aired Wednesday.

SpaceX plans to launch its first space tourism mission for the fourth quarter of 2021, targeting low Earth orbit.

This mission, called Inspiration4, will be carried out using the reusable Falcon 9 space launcher and SpaceX's Crew Dragon space vehicle, already used by NASA.

It will host the American billionaire Jared Isaacman, who also offered three seats at his side.

Her first elected, announced at the end of February, is a 29-year-old American survivor of pediatric cancer.

© 2021 AFP