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EDITORIAL | Japan's Manned Space Exploration Program Needs More Astronaut Recruits

JAXA should make the recruitment intervals for new astronauts in its manned space exploration program shorter and more regular.



manned space exploration
Makoto Suwa (on the screen) and Ayu Yoneda, were selected as JAXA astronaut candidates on February 28, 2023. Photographed in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. (© Sankei by Masamichi Kirihara)

July 2023 marks the 54th anniversary of the first human landing on the moon. It was a big moment in manned space exploration successfully completed by the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969.

With humanity aiming to once again stand on the surface of the moon, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has selected two new astronaut candidates to join Japan's astronaut corps. One is Makoto Suwa, 46, a disaster prevention specialist at the World Bank. The other is Ayu Yoneda, 28, a surgeon at the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center. 

Hopefully, they will play active roles in paving the way for a new era of Japanese space exploration, especially in regard to manned spaceflight.

Yoneda will become Japan's third woman to pass the exacting employment examination, following Chiaki Mukai and Naoko Yamazaki. After hearing the news, Yoneda said, "The road will not be easy, but I would like to go to the moon if possible."

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Japanese astronaut Chiaki Mukai waves to the camera as he also prepares to board the space shuttle. (© AP/NASA TV)
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Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki is also on her way to the space shuttle. (©REUTERS/Scott Audette)

Nurturing Dreams Through Artemis

Japan is participating in the Artemis Project, a United States-led lunar exploration effort, with the goal of putting Japan's first astronaut on the moon during the latter half of this decade. There is a strong possibility that Yoneda and Mr Suwa, who were officially hired after successfully completing basic training, will be tapped to take the trip.

Just as Yoneda's admiration for Ms Mukai deepened her love for space, the activities of the two newest astronauts should help nurture the dreams of the young people who will take the lead in future space development.


Suwa became the oldest individual to qualify as an astronaut. Although he was eliminated in the first round during a previous recruitment effort in 2008, Suwa refused to give up. And this time, his dream came true. His enthusiasm and determination are inspiring for those who dream of becoming astronauts. That enthusiasm should also be put to good use when he goes to space! He deserves to be highly commended. 

However, Mr Suwa, who was in his early 30s at the time of his last attempt, had to wait a long 14 years before trying again.

More Recruiting and More Often

In order to encourage more people to pursue a profession as an astronaut, recruitment intervals should be made shorter and more regular. 

For this round of recruitment, the qualifications for applicants, including educational background, were greatly eased. As a result, there was a record number of 4,127 applicants vying for a spot.

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JAXA introduces Makoto Suwa (on screen) and Ayu Yoneda, a surgeon at the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center, as its two new astronaut candidates. At Chiyoda ward, Tokyo, on February 28. (© Sankei by Masamichi Kirihara)

It is also significant that the door has been opened wider to allow a more diverse range of people to become astronauts. However, the number of people who can pass through that door is still quite limited.

Up to now, Japan's space development has focused on unmanned areas, such as satellite launches, asteroid exploration, and cargo transport to the International Space Station (ISS). For manned spaceflight, it has relied on international cooperation projects, primarily those led by the United States.

Without our own manned rockets and spacecraft, Japan will likely not be able to greatly widen the door for would-be astronauts to enter. The era in which humankind will expand its sphere of activity from the moon to Mars and civilian spaceflight becomes commonplace is not that far off. 


It is time to discuss how we can start adding a "manned approach" to Japan's space program.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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