Japanese astronaut to join NASA Gateway mission

A close-up view of NASA’s moon rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Nov. 14

A Japanese astronaut will be on board the Gateway space station when it orbits the moon during NASA’s Artemis missions, the Japanese government and the U.S. space agency agreed on Friday.

The agreement inked by Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Keiko Nagaoka and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson is a major step toward the first moon landing by a Japanese astronaut, which is expected to happen by the end of the decade.

Nagaoka said Japan would also agree to a U.S. proposal to extend the operation of the International Space Station until 2030.

Gateway is a vital part of the U.S.-led Artemis program. Construction is expected to start as early as 2024 and finish around 2028.

The space station, which will have living quarters to accommodate two to four crew members for up to about 30 days, is expected to be utilized for lunar exploration, scientific experiments and future Mars missions.

Japan signed a memorandum of understanding with NASA in 2020, stating Japanese astronauts would be involved in the Gateway mission, among other matters concerning cooperation in the project.

The latest agreement did not include a mission date for the Japanese astronaut who will board the space station.

Japan’s involvement in the Artemis missions will include the launch of a transfer vehicle with 4 tons of supplies to Gateway by 2030, and the provision of life-support systems and environmental control technology for the living quarters.

In an online signing ceremony Friday, Nagaoka said the two countries would work to further strengthen cooperation in lunar exploration.

Nelson said the agreement helped us move a step closer to one day having U.S. and Japanese astronauts living and working on the moon.