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The United States and Japan have launched a bid to send the first Japanese astronaut on Moon

As the longtime allies create a collaboration aimed at countering China, the US and Japan decided to work together to send the first Japanese astronaut to the moon, accompanied by an American astronaut.

In a joint statement, the two governments stated they will work together on human and robotic moon missions, “including a shared ambition to see a future Japanese astronaut on the lunar surface,” with the goal of finalizing an implementation agreement this year.

Following a meeting between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, the two countries jointly stated that they “are committed to a Japanese astronaut opportunity on the Gateway, a human outpost in the lunar vicinity, as part of expanding Artemis collaboration.”

The Artemis project, a US-led initiative to return astronauts to the moon and eventually take humans to Mars, is linked to the cooperative lunar exploration development.

At a news conference with Kishida, Biden claimed that US-Japanese space cooperation “is taking off, looking toward the moon and to Mars.”

I’m excited about the work we will do together on the Gateway Station around the moon and look forward to the first Japanese astronaut joining us in the mission to the lunar surface, under the Artemis program, he added.

After NASA officials warned of rising tensions between Washington and Beijing, the US and Japan are planning to collaborate more closely on space exploration.

The announcement comes amid a race to begin exploiting minerals worth hundreds of billions of dollars on the moon and elsewhere.

The moon may contain huge levels of helium-3, a non-radioactive isotope that might be used as a replacement for uranium in nuclear power reactors. Experts estimate that three tablespoons of helium-3 might replace 5,000 tons of coal.

The fight between the US and its allies against China and Russia is mirrored in space geopolitics.

The world’s leading superpowers have been unable to reach an agreement on a set of rules to regulate the next generation of space exploration.

The Artemis Accords, a non-legally binding collection of principles for exploring the moon, Mars, and beyond, have been endorsed by 19 countries, including Japan and South Korea.

China and Russia, on the other hand, have led a campaign against the accords. They’re working together to promote an alternate lunar project called the International Lunar Research Station, which they believe is available to all governments.

Japan has one of the world’s most advanced space programs, and in 2020, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency used the unmanned Hayabusa2 spacecraft to collect material from an asteroid.

About a dozen Japanese citizens have gone into space, putting the country roughly even with China, Germany, and France, but much behind the United States and Russia in the worldwide rankings. Last year, the country’s space budget increased by more than 20% to almost 450 billion yen ($3.5 billion).

In an era when the cosmos is growing more congested and billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are increasingly launching satellites to investigate economic potential, the lack of cooperation between the US and China on space exploration is particularly worrying.

Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese e-commerce millionaire, spent time on the International Space Station last year in preparation to be the first private passenger on Musk’s SpaceX’s planned trip around the moon in 2023. No Japanese people have ever set foot on the moon.

In April, NASA conducted tests in preparation for the launch of Artemis I, the first totally robotic mission to the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. China is rapidly approaching its aim of matching US capabilities. China is the only country with its own space station, and it was the second country after the United States to land a rover on Mars last year.

Most exchanges between NASA and its Chinese counterpart are prohibited under US law approved in 2011, and the US has blocked China from participating in the International Space Station, prompting Beijing to build its own.

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