Japanese billionaire space tourist Yusaku Maezawa and two crewmates return to Earth tonight. Watch it live.

Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa enters the International Space Station to begin a 12-day space tourist trip following a Soyuz launch and docking on Dec. 8, 2021.
Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa enters the International Space Station to begin a 12-day space tourist trip following a Soyuz launch and docking on Dec. 8, 2021. (Image credit: NASA TV)

A Japanese billionaire and two colleagues will return to Earth from the International Space Station on Sunday (Dec. 19), and you can watch the whole thing live.

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying Yusaku Maezawa, along with spaceflight participant (and video producer) Yozo Hirano and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, is scheduled to touch down on the steppes of Kazakhstan Sunday at 10:18 p.m. EST (0318 GMT on Dec. 20).

You can watch the departure procedure from the International Station Station (ISS) — which will kick off with the closing of the hatches between the Soyuz and station around 3:30 p.m. EST (1830 GMT) — in the window below and on Space.com's homepage, courtesy of NASA, or directly via the space agency. Here are the milestones to watch for: 

Photos: The first space tourists

  • 3 p.m. EST / 2000 GMT — NASA TV coverage begins for hatch closing at 3:32 p.m. EST (2032 GMT)
  • 6:30 p.m. EST / 2300 GMT — NASA TV coverage begins for undocking at 6:54 p.m. EST (2354 GMT)
  • 9 p.m. EST / 0200 GMT Dec. 20 — NASA TV coverage begins for deorbit and landing. Landing is targeted for 10:18 p.m. EST / 0318 GMT Dec. 20.

The crew will be returning from nearly 12 days aboard the ISS. Their mission was Misurkin's third spaceflight and the first for both Maezawa and Hirano, who organized their trip via the Virginia company Space Adventures. (Maezawa paid for both his and Hirano's seats.)

It's the first ISS mission that Space Adventures has organized since 2009. Between 2001 and 2009, the company helped send seven paying customers on eight trips to the orbiting lab. (One person flew twice.)

Billionaire entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa (left), cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin (center) and video producer Yozo Hirano (right) launched to the International Space Station on Dec. 8, 2021. They will return to Earth late Dec. 19. (Image credit: CPK/Roscosmos)

Hirano has been documenting his and Maezawa's off-Earth experience and performing health and performance research, adding to the small database of information available for non-professional astronauts.

Maezawa also plans to make a round-the-moon trip aboard SpaceX's Starship vehicle. That mission is expected to launch no earlier than 2023

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before joining full-time, freelancing since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace