Japan, US sign deal to send 2 Japanese astronauts to the moon

This is the first time the US has agreed to fly non-US astronauts to the moon, making Japan only the second nation to have an astronaut land on the lunar surface.

Yusuke Tomiyama

Yusuke Tomiyama

The Yomiuri Shimbun


Japan aims to send its first astronaut to the moon in 2028. PHOTO: TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION/THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN

April 12, 2024

WASHINGTON – Japan and the United States have agreed that two Japanese astronauts will stand on the moon as part of the U.S.-led Artemis lunar exploration program, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday after his summit meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.

“The allocation of two astronaut flight opportunities to the lunar surface to Japan were confirmed,” Kishida said at a press conference.

This is the first time the United States has agreed to fly non-U.S. astronauts to the moon. Japan aims to send its first astronaut to the moon in 2028, making it the second nation — after the United States — to have an astronaut land on the lunar surface.

A total of 12 U.S. astronauts landed on the moon between 1969 and 1972 under the Apollo program. The Artemis program aims to send astronauts to the moon in September 2026 for the first time in about half a century, with two U.S. astronauts scheduled to touch down near the lunar South Pole.

Under the plan, the next crewed mission to land on the moon would be in 2028. A Japanese astronaut could land there as soon as that year via the moon-orbiting manned lunar space station Gateway, which the United States and other participants plan to construct.

As part of its contribution to the Artemis program, Japan has been developing an exploration vehicle called the “lunar cruiser.” Toyota Motor Corp. is spearheading development of the vehicle, inside of which astronauts would not need to wear spacesuits.

A second Japanese astronaut is expected to land on the moon in 2032, when the cruiser is set to start operating.

The United States decided to offer Japan the opportunities to send its astronauts to the moon in return for Japan’s development and provision of the cruiser. The agreement also stipulated the possibility of additional Japanese astronauts being sent to the moon depending on additional Japanese contributions to the program.

Before the summit meeting, Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Masahito Moriyama and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson signed an agreement to advance sustainable human exploration of the moon.

“This will boost Japan’s presence as an advanced space nation,” Moriyama said at a press conference Wednesday.

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