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Jap area vacationers blast off in Russian spacecraft

Two Japanese space tourists and a Russian cosmonaut have embarked on a trip to the International Space Station (ISS), where they are set to conduct a series of medical experiments during their nearly two-week stay in orbit.

The pair – billionaire businessman Yusaku Maezawa and video producer Yozo Hirano – are traveling to the ISS alongside Alexander Misurkin of Russia’s Roscosmos on Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The group plans to spend 12 days on the station, not only as tourists but to perform tests and scientific research.

The Japanese tourists will participate in a Russian research initiative, namely to study the effects of space travel and “microgravity conditions” on blood circulation, according to Roscosmos. The results of the testing are hoped to provide useful data in the development of space-specific medicines and treatments.

Hirano is also set to take part in research carried out by the US-based Baylor College of Medicine, agreeing to conduct “health and performance” tests while on the space station, which the college said would offer insight into the experience of a non-professional astronaut in space.

While only a few people on the planet can properly call themselves “space tourists,” the industry is expected to see a major boom as technology improves in the coming years. While Russia has long carried American astronauts to orbit aboard Soyuz rockets, the US is now inching its way back toward its own domestic space program, working alongside private firms like SpaceX to create a craft as competitors Blue Origin and Boeing race to get in on the action.

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Maezawa, who spent 100 days in training for the latest mission, also hopes to take part in a far longer and riskier journey around the moon aboard a SpaceX Starship, when it’s developed sometime this decade. Dubbed ‘dearMoon’ and first announced in 2018, the aspirational trip is intended to carry between 10 to 12 people around the satellite in total.