Quirks & Quarks·Bob McDonald's blog

Fly me to the moon for an out-of-this-world date

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is running a competition to find a potential life partner to join him on his trip to the moon.

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is looking for a romantic partner to join him on his trip to the moon

Yusaku Maezawa will be the first man to fly around the moon on a SpaceX rocket as early as 2023. (Toshifumi Kitamura / AFP via Getty Images)

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is looking for a life partner. That's not news. 

But he's trying to recruit that life partner by running a competition for the privilege of accompanying him on the first commercial tourist flight around the moon. This raises questions about how future space tourists will be selected to fly in space. 

In 2018 the Japanese entrepreneur revealed that he had agreed to pay a large but undisclosed amount of money to the private company SpaceX to ride as a passenger on their planned flight to the moon in 2023. This would be the first human trip to the moon since 1972.

The journey would be aboard a new rocket called Starship, currently under development, that will be capable of carrying up to 10 passengers. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk hopes Starship will become a flagship for journeys back to the moon and eventually on to Mars. 

The planned moon trip would be a week-long adventure. The tourists would be launched into Earth orbit, boosted toward the moon, loop around the far side and use the moon's gravity to slingshot themselves back to Earth. This trajectory is known as a free return and was used to bring the crew of the stricken Apollo 13 mission back home.   

A prototype of SpaceX's Starship spacecraft is seen at the company's Texas launch facility on September 28, 2019 in Boca Chica, Texas. The Starship spacecraft is a massive vehicle meant to take people to the Moon, Mars and beyond. (Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

In 2018, Maezawa also announced he wanted to bring along a group of artists. His website says they include "a painter, musician, film director, fashion designer…" The idea is they would record their experience through artistic expression. This would be a welcome contrast to the test pilots and engineers who went to the moon during the Apollo era, who often had trouble describing their experiences because they were trained to focus on completing the task at hand rather than thinking about how they felt about it. 

Now it seems that Mr Maezawa is looking for a date — and potential mate — to accompany him on the journey. He has advertised for a woman over 20 who is physically fit, interested in spaceflight and willing to become a life partner.

Has spaceflight turned into a dating game?

Space is a dangerous place for things to go wrong

I've had the privilege of meeting many people who've been to space, including our Canadian astronauts, Russian cosmonauts and several lunar explorers. There is a reason all of them trained for years before they flew in space — it's hard to do and things can go wrong. 

A computer overload caused alarms to go off during the first moon landing of Apollo 11. A lightning bolt struck Apollo 12 during launch, blowing all the electrical circuits, and of course an explosion on Apollo 13 almost cost the crew their lives.

Three of the four Apollo 13 Flight Directors applaud the successful splashdown of the Command Module "Odyssey" after a harrowing journey for the astronauts. (NASA)

Those problems were dealt with on the fly because the astronauts and ground crew were knowledgeable and capable of dealing with emergencies. Even today, astronauts on the International Space Station are constantly coping with a variety of maintenance issues from ruptured cooling lines to clogged toilets. 

Training space tourists in case things go wrong

In the future, as space tourism opens up to anyone who can afford a ticket, how much training will be required before flight?

At the moment, Virgin Galactic offers a three day training course that involves spinning in a centrifuge to experience the 3-Gs of acceleration during the rocket launch. They have yet to fly a tourist to space.

Blue Origin also offers pre-flight training, which is mostly familiarization with the spaceship and what to expect during the flight. They also have yet to fly a tourist to space.

Jeff Bezos speaks in front of a model of Blue Origin's Blue Moon lunar lander, Thursday, May 9, 2019, in Washington. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

Both of these sub-orbital tourist flights would only involve a few minutes in space, so if someone doesn't feel well, they will be back on the ground within half an hour. A week long journey to the moon and back is another story.

Once the rocket is on its way, it will be impossible to simply turn around and head back home during an emergency. Thanks to the laws of physics it would take a huge amount of fuel to do that, which is why they are using the gravity of the moon as a way to return to Earth. 

So if something does go wrong, whether it is equipment failure or a medical emergency, they still have to make the whole journey to the moon and back regardless. During that time, there will be no room for panic and feelings of helplessness. The entire crew will have to work together to get home safely.

The worst case scenario would be the death of a space tourist. 

While space tourism is an exciting opportunity for space enthusiasts to take a shortcut to the cosmos, there will need to be a new set of regulations put in place to determine who gets to go, especially on the longer flights into deep space. It will require physical as well as mental strength and a knowledge that goes beyond how to have a good time.

Spaceflight cannot become just an exotic dating game.

About the Author

Bob McDonald is the host of CBC Radio's award-winning weekly science program, Quirks & Quarks. He is also a science commentator for CBC News Network and CBC-TV's The National. He has received 12 honorary degrees and is an Officer of the Order of Canada.