New era of space development dawns with Artemis missions

A new era of space exploration is about to begin. Japan, by working together with North America and Europe, will hopefully undertake ambitious projects to explore the moon and Mars.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has successfully launched a large rocket into space for lunar exploration. With this launch, NASA’s Artemis manned moon-exploration program, in which Japan is also participating, gets fully underway.

The rocket is carrying the new Orion spacecraft. This is a test flight, meaning no one is aboard, but the Orion is scheduled to fly astronauts around the moon in 2024. NASA plans to send an American woman and other astronauts to the surface of the moon from 2025.

If mankind steps on the lunar surface again, it will be the first landing in half a century, since the Apollo program in the 1960s and ’70s. After the post-Apollo era of space shuttles and the International Space Station, one can say that space exploration has entered its next stage.

The latest developments are also a great opportunity for Japan, which has long been a core member of the ISS. By using the expertise it has built up, Japan aims to have its astronauts land on the moon after the United States does so.

Last year, for the first time in 13 years, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency recruited astronauts. The first Japanese person to set foot on the moon will be among the novice astronauts currently being screened.

The Artemis program is not simply limited to the exploration of the lunar surface, as NASA also has an eye on using the moon as a foothold for exploring Mars in the future. For the time being, the plan is to build a manned base on the moon, with lunar rovers used to search for resources such as water and minerals.

China and Russia are also planning their own exploration of the lunar surface. The rules for activities in space and on the moon are not clearly established, raising concerns that there may be a situation in which the interests of major powers may come into conflict.

Russia’s rift with Japan, the United States and Europe has deepened over its invasion of Ukraine, and Moscow has indicated its intention to leave the ISS as early as 2024.

For conflicts on Earth to be carried over into space is undesirable. Countries should seek a cooperative system to prevent disputes from expanding into space exploration.

The Artemis rocket also carries Japan’s small, unmanned vehicle Omotenashi. The vehicle has been hit by problems on the voyage, making it difficult to achieve Japan’s first-ever lunar landing. The hope is that JAXA will make use of this experience for its next attempt.

U.S. company SpaceX is building the Artemis program’s next lunar lander. Companies in the private sector have increasingly played a greater role in space exploration, and new business opportunities should emerge from exploring the moon’s surface. Japan also needs to enlarge this sector to enable startups to play an active role.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 18, 2022)