Younger Japanese urged to boldly go where JAXA has never gone before

Space development is gaining momentum with the entry of private start-ups into the field. Japan needs to nurture young astronauts who will lead a new era and expand the field of activities in space.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has begun recruiting new astronauts for the first time in 13 years. The candidates will undergo written tests and interviews and JAXA will decide who to accept in 2023. The selection process is very competitive, and only a small number of candidates will be accepted.

The most important tasks for the astronauts will include staying at a space station to be built in lunar orbit jointly by Japan, the United States and other countries, and landing on the moon. A Japanese astronaut will step on the moon for the first time in a historic mission. It is hoped that many Japanese will take up the challenge.

There are currently seven active Japanese astronauts, with their average age exceeding 50. Astronauts have to train for years before they can actually go to space. There is an urgent need to inject some youth into the ranks. JAXA must continue to recruit on a regular basis.

This time, the eligibility requirements have been substantially relaxed. The previous requirement of a four-year university degree in the field of natural science has been eliminated, so people with liberal arts majors are now eligible to apply. Also, the “practical experience” requirement is no longer limited to natural science fields.

These changes may have expanded opportunities for people in a wide range of fields, such as salaried workers and young researchers, in addition to scientists, doctors and engineers, who comprised the largest number of applicants in the past. The minimum height has also been lowered from 158 centimeters to 149.5 centimeters, opening the door to shorter applicants.

The ability to swim, which is necessary for training, and possession of a driver’s license will no longer be required. JAXA said there is no need to ask at the application stage about abilities and qualifications that can be acquired through hard work and training after selection. Such efforts are expected to widen the door and attract a broader variety of applicants.

The United States has pushed back the date of the planned moon landing from 2024 to 2025 or later. Exploration of the moon is technically difficult. More twists and turns can be expected in the future.

Astronauts are considered to be on the glamorous side of the space development field, but in reality, they must have the tenacity to train steadily without losing their composure even when things do not go as planned, and have the ability to cooperate with personnel from other countries.

The capabilities of spacecraft are improving, and the time has come when ordinary people can visit space. Astronauts will need the ability to talk about their experiences in their own words and tell people about the significance of space development.

JAXA also places importance on the ability of astronauts to communicate and express themselves to the world, and intends to screen applicants for their presentation and explanation skills through interviews and other means during the selection process. It is hoped that a wide range of individuals will be recruited to enable a Japanese astronaut to talk to children from the moon.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 24, 2021.