Communicating Dreams to Children Must be Part of Role

Space development is about to enter an era of pursuing manned lunar exploration. It is hoped that Japan’s space agency will make efforts to realize a generational shift from veteran to younger astronauts to take on new missions.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has picked two new astronaut candidates, the first time it has done so since 2009.

The successful candidates, Makoto Suwa, a World Bank employee, and Ayu Yoneda, a doctor, were selected from a record number of more than 4,000 applicants after several rounds of tests and interviews. The abilities of the two candidates were recognized through JAXA’s rigorous selection process. They must fully demonstrate their strengths going forward.

In its latest recruitment drive, JAXA significantly eased the required qualifications. “Graduation from a four-year university course in the natural sciences” was no longer a requirement, among other changes. As a result, about 20% of the applicants were not science graduates, according to JAXA. It can be said that widening the door to entry has been meaningful.

The navigation and docking of spacecraft have become increasingly automated, raising the chances of people without special skills in equipment operation and other abilities who want to become astronauts. The lunar exploration plan includes the construction of a lunar base. The work of astronauts will no doubt become even more diverse in the future.

Suwa, 46, works for the World Bank in the United States. He has worked for international organizations for a long time, and his background will be put to good use even in space development, in which cooperation among countries is essential.

Yoneda, 28, is the youngest-ever pick as an astronaut candidate, and the third woman, in the Japanese astronaut corps. Her experience as a doctor will no doubt be useful for health management and other purposes during long-term stays in space.

Currently, there are six male Japanese astronauts on active duty, and their average age exceeds 50. JAXA needs to continue recruiting regularly and employ a wide range of personnel.

In the United States, astronauts who have retired from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have moved into the private sector and played a role in the development of the space industry. Recruiting astronauts with various backgrounds will be an important step toward promoting manned space development, including in the private sector.

The United States is promoting the manned lunar exploration “Artemis Program.” Japan, which is participating in the program, is aiming for its first landing on the moon in the late 2020s or later.

Suwa and Yoneda have a good chance to grasp this historic opportunity. During the selection process, the applicants were required to walk on sandy terrain that mimics the lunar surface, report on their activities in English and assemble a lunar rover, JAXA said.

Japanese astronauts who have stood on the moon will be able to communicate to children in their own words the dream-inspiring nature of their work. It is hoped that such a day will come in the not-too-distant future.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 2, 2023)