Japanese to Live on the Moon

An artist's rendering of JAXA's future manned flight to the moon.
An artist's rendering of JAXA's future manned flight to the moon.
AP Photo/Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, HO

Aug 9, 2006

It takes something fairly outlandish to raise eyebrows in today's scientific and technological communities, but the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) did just that at an international conference held in Tokyo last week. The agency announced its goal to build an inhabitable base on the moon by 2030.


Preceding the construction of the lunar base, JAXA has some work to do. Junichiro Kawaguchi, the Japanese agency's director, said the current plan is to send astronauts to the moon in 2020 to begin construction. In the immediate future, the Japanese space program plans to send a new satellite into orbit and unmanned, robot-run missions to the moon to collect rock samples from the moon's surface as early as next year. But as an article on Nature.com points out, the news may be a bit premature:

The plan isn't yet official: the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has not been allocated a budget for the project, which would be expected to cost up to 3 trillion yen (US$26 billion). But a vocal group of Japanese space scientists has called for the plan to become reality. The dates and details presented by Kawaguchi build upon the country's 20-year vision for space exploration, released in the spring of 2005, which began to consider far-flung ideas such as a Moon base.

Satoki Kurokawa, a JAXA spokesperson, told the AFP (via New Scientist), that

The feasibility of the plan is unclear at this point as we need to gain understanding by the government and the Japanese people on our plan, but technologically it would be possible in a few decades...In addition, space programmes [sic] have the potential to create cutting-edge technologies, particularly in the field of robotics.

Before raising eyebrows at Kurokawa's vague justification for the expensive space program -- "cutting-edge technologies" and robotics -- one should consider the contributions that aerospace research has made to the consumer sector. Among many examples, aerospace research has helped these along: artificial heart pumps, developments in prosthetics, alternative fuel vehicles, air filtration systems, television broadcasting and an entire roster of items too long to list here. Just the same, $26 billion is a lot of money.

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