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A JAXA astronaut would be the first “non-American” to participate in a NASA lunar landing

As part of the US-led Artemis program, Japan’s newly elected prime minister established an end-of-decade aim of sending Japanese space explorers (astronauts) to the moon. “We will advance the Artemis project to execute manned operations on the moon, and we will endeavor to achieve the moon landing of Japanese astronauts in the late 2020s,” Fumio Kishida, the Japanese Prime Minister stated during a summit of the Strategic Headquarters for the Space Development on December 28.

The goal is part of a revamped space policy roadmap that Kishida, Japan’s former top diplomat and leader of the country’s Liberal Democratic Party, is pushing for cabinet approval. The new fiscal year in Japan begins on April 1st. The revised roadmap asks for collaboration with Japan’s commercial sector to create crewed lunar rovers as well as other “critical systems for human activity on the moon.”

“We also plan to place a Japanese astronaut on the moon before the end of the late 2020s,” the new roadmap adds, “to achieve the goal of being the first-ever non-American to do just that.”

Canada, the US’s northern neighbor, is the only Artemis member that has already reserved places for its astronauts on NASA’s next moon trips. Last December, the Canadian Space Agency and NASA signed an agreement that will allow a Canadian astronaut to join three American astronauts on the Artemis 2, a scheduled 2024 voyage to fly the Orion spaceship around the moon and back to Earth. Canada also secured a spot on an unnamed future lunar Gateway mission.

Canada will deliver Canadarm3 robotic arm for lunar Gateway, according to the agreement published by the two agencies on December 16. It will also provide Gateway module interfaces, allowing the arm to traverse around the Gateway’s exterior to deploy payloads and perform maintenance. In 2026, Canadarm3 will be delivered to the lunar Gateway by a commercial logistics vehicle. NASA awarded SpaceX a contract in March to transfer goods to the International Space Station using a Dragon XL variant of its Dragon spacecraft.

With the 2-person Artemis 3 voyage, scheduled for 2025, NASA hopes to land people on the moon for the very first time since 1972. Both seats have been allotted to astronauts from the United States. What happens after that is mainly unknown.

Meanwhile, Japan has launched a recruitment effort for new astronauts, with an application deadline of December 20 and a deadline of March 4. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) aims to choose a new category of astronauts in February 2023, replacing seven active-duty space explorers with an average age of 52.

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