On Monday, the U.S. and Japan announced a partnership to send the first Japanese astronaut to the moon.
So far, American astronauts are the only humans to have stepped foot on the moon, but the two countries plan to change that before the end of the decade. President Joe Biden met with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to discuss cooperation through NASA’s Artemis program to the moon and Mars.
“I’m excited [about] the work we’ll do together on the Gateway Station around the Moon, and look forward to the first Japanese astronaut joining us on the mission to the lunar surface under the Artemis program,” Biden said.
Japan’s contribution to the Artemis missions will include work on the Gateway Station, an orbital checkpoint for manned lunar missions. Given that Japan’s space agency primarily focuses on unmanned missions, the country has previously depended on the American and Russian space programs to send its astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
Last November, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced its plan to recruit new astronauts for the first time in 13 years, in support of the Artemis missions. Given that all seven of Japan’s astronauts are men, JAXA is encouraging women to apply.
Partnerships between the U.S. and Japan date back several years, including Space Shuttle missions and trips to the ISS. President Biden took the opportunity Monday to see JAXA’s lunar rover, which was made in partnership with Toyota.
The vehicle, dubbed “Lunar Cruiser,” comes equipped with a full range of life support, and even sports an advanced robotic arm to help aid lunar research. The vehicle is expected to launch later this decade.
“We see space as an area for our once-in-a-century transformation. By going to space, we may be able to develop telecommunications and other technology that will prove valuable to human life,” project leader Takao Sato told the Associated Press.