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Japanese astronaut to be first non-American on the moon

A Japanese astronaut will become the first non-American to set foot on the Moon during one of NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions, US President Joe Biden announced.

The offer to Japan, an opportunity many nations have long dreamed of, came as part of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s state visit, and as the US seeks to strengthen ties with its key Asian ally.

“Two Japanese astronauts will join future American missions, and one will become the first non-American ever to land on the moon,” Mr Biden said in a press conference with Mr Kishida.

Mr Kishida hailed the announcement as a “huge achievement” and announced that Japan would in return supply a rover for the program.

NASA’s Artemis program seeks to return humans to the Moon for the first time in over 50 years, and to build a sustained lunar presence ahead of potential missions to Mars.

Between 1969 and 1972, the US Apollo program saw 12 Americans, all white men, walk on the Moon.

NASA previously announced that the Artemis program would see the first woman and the first person of colour land on the Moon.

Japan this year became the fifth country to succeed in landing a spacecraft on the moon

The first mission to take astronauts to the lunar surface, Artemis 3, is planned for 2026. China meanwhile has said it seeks to put humans on the Moon by 2030.

The European Space Agency is expected to also get seats on future Artemis missions in exchange for technological contributions to the program.

Close cooperation

Japan and the US have worked together in the space sector for years, notably collaborating on operations at the International Space Station (ISS).

In a joint media release, the United States and Japan clarified that a Japanese national would land on the Moon “assuming important benchmarks are achieved,” without clarifying further.

NASA’s Artemis program seeks to return humans to the Moon for the first time in over 50 years

The lunar rover provided by Japan will be pressurised, meaning astronauts can travel farther and work for longer periods on the lunar surface, according to the statement.

It added that the pressurised rover will accommodate two astronauts in the “mobile habitat and laboratory” for up to 30 days as they explore the area near the lunar South Pole.

Artemis missions

The Artemis program was inaugurated in 2022 with Artemis 1, which successfully flew an uncrewed vessel around the Moon.

Artemis 2 is planned for 2025 and will send four astronauts around the Moon without landing. The crew will consist of three Americans and a Canadian, who are currently in training.

The first crewed landing on the Moon will be Artemis 3, currently scheduled for 2026. NASA has not yet announced who will take part in the mission.

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