NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine secretly proposed to the Japanese government to send Japanese astronauts to the moon, Japanese newspaper, The Mainichi reports. It was during a trip in September 2019 that NASA revealed the U.S. plan to send Japanese astronauts on the surface of the moon in the last half of the 2020s, multiple sources acquainted with the matter said.
If this were to be recognized, it would be Japan’s first moon landing, and it could perhaps make the country only the second in history, besides the U.S., to put a person on the astronomical body. The U.S. considers the moon is set to become a planned point shortly both in terms of security and economics, and its moves to consolidate ties with Japan are seemingly part of a goal to rein China’s rise to interstellar reputation.
In May 2019, the U.S. government publicised the Artemis program, a mission to get astronauts back on the surface of the moon with the ultimate goal to send humans to Mars. Currently, it aims to attain it by 2024, through a new space station called Gateway to be established in the moon’s locality.
Different from the Apollo program missions between 1961 and 1972, which were about accomplishing landings, NASA has its eyes set on making a moon base that will allow astronauts to continually stay on the celestial object as soon as the latter half of the 2020s. The U.S.’s plans have been framed with a strong awareness of China’s moves to proclaim itself as a strong space nation by having its moon base in the 2030s.
In the end of May 2019, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe received U.S. President Donald Trump as an official state guest and stated that Japan was going over possible participation in Washington’s program.
Bridenstine then held a private meeting on Sept. 24, 2019, in Tokyo with notables including Takafumi Matsui, deputy head of the same board as well as the director at the Chiba Institute of Technology’s Planetary Exploration Research Center and a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, Yoshiyuki Kasai, chief of the government’s Space Policy Committee and honorary chairman at the Central Japan Railway Co., and Takehiko Matsuo, head of the National Space Policy Secretariat among others.
At the meeting, Bridenstine is reported to have requested the attendees to conduct a forward-thinking assessment with a dream of having Japanese astronauts stand together with American ones on the moon.
Till now the only people to have put the foot on the moon are 12 U.S. astronauts working during the Apollo program. President Trump plans to send humans to the moon yearly, with the first personnel landing set to be a duo of male and female astronauts in 2024. And while the U.S. has not made clear a time in which it expects to see Japanese astronauts on the moon, it’s assumed it wants to do so from the second mission in 2025 and forwards, and it also seems that the U.S. expects to have more financial cooperation from Japan.
But while Prime Minister Abe concluded the basic policies of a place for Japan’s participation in proposals with a goal to strengthen cooperative ties with the U.S., the government came to a halt of offering specific measures beyond supplying technology and equipment to the Gateway space station.
Japan’s annual budget for international space exploration related activities holds at about 35 billion to 40 billion yen (U.S. $322 million to 368 million). According to internal documents from the Ministry of Culture, Education, Sports, Science and Technology obtained, just the points that the government aims to address as described in an October 2019 report will need approximately 213 billion yen by fiscal 2024. If Japan were to pledge to put people on the moon’s surface, it seems an even more significant financial burden would be needed.
The U.S. government is expecting to reveal details about the Artemis program as soon as the spring. With those finer points explained, the Japanese government will contemplate whether Japanese astronauts will go to the moon, and how deeply Japan can involve itself in the project.