/ 4 November 2005

Japanese space tourist to wear cartoon costume

A self-confessed Japanese cartoon geek said on Friday he will become the world’s fourth space tourist late next year — and he wants to gaze down at the Earth dressed as an ace pilot from a hit animation series.

The $20-million trip will take into space Daisuke Enomoto, a 34-year-old former board director of the Livedoor internet firm headed by flamboyant entrepreneur Takafumi Horie.

Enomoto, a slender man appearing in a recent photo in glasses and dyed blond hair, said on his website that he has already passed medical checks and had basic training in Russia last month on a programme offered by United States space-tourism firm Space Adventures.

Fully-fledged training will begin at the start of 2006 for the 10-day flight, in which the wealthy college dropout will spend seven nights at the International Space Station.

The investor, who describes himself as a geek follower of the popular Gundam robot animation series, said he will work with Japanese companies to design his own red costume like that in the show for his space journey.

The costume is the trademark outfit worn by ”Char Aznable”, an ace pilot in the Gundam series whose name is inspired by French singer Charles Aznavour.

He also plans to build a plastic model of a character in the Gundam series while in space.

Enomoto said he does not know whether the trip — to take place sometime in late 2006 — should be labelled a pastime or business.

”It may be okay to think this is a survey before I start up or invest in the space business,” he said.

”But the top reason is that I simply want to go,” he said, arguing that curiosity has brought civilisation to higher stages.

”Space has future possibilities and it is not time to say this and that about the price of the trip. It is only a small issue,” he said.

Enomoto said he has always wanted to be an astronaut.

”In reality, the dream can come true only in America or Russia. Even if you are born in America or Russia and are the elite of elite, it is a difficult dream to realise,” he said.

”I’m not an elite, as I dropped out of college. Even if I cannot take a frontal route, however, I believed my desire would take me to space. So, you can also go there!”

Enomoto is an independent entrepreneur after a stint at Livedoor, whose founder Horie has become a celebrity for his no-holds-barred business style and unsuccessful run for Parliament.

The third civilian to pay for a space flight, US millionaire businessman Greg Olsen, returned to Earth last month in the Soyuz space capsule.

He was preceded into space by two other millionaire tourists, American Dennis Tito in 2001 and South African Mark Shuttleworth the following year.

Japan’s leading travel agency said in August it had set up an exclusive sales agreement for the market here with Space Adventures to send the country’s most adventurous tourists into orbit.

Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) started sales in October and has already sold three contracts for an 11-million yen ($100 000) journey in a rocket for a brief glance down at Earth. The trip will start in 2007 or 2008.

”We are surprised to receive orders this quick,” JTB spokesperson Shinichi Tsuaki said. — Sapa-AFP