March 6, 2009

Japan To Send Robot To The Moon By 2020

In an attempt to avoid falling behind in the Asian "space race," government reports showed on Friday that Japan is working toward putting a robot on the moon by 2020 and an astronaut by 2030, Reuters reported.

Last year marked China's first space walk, and India launched its first unmanned moon mission. While China announced it eventually plans to put astronauts on the moon, no firm dates have yet been set, according to Beijing officials.

The report said that Japan's first robot and astronaut would probe the moon to better understand its resources.

One government official reported that a space development panel on Friday discussed the likelihood of Japan eventually starting its own manned space program.

An official from the Strategic Headquarters for Space Policy (SHSP), under the Cabinet Office, told Reuters that several experts feared that without an independent program, Japan would likely fall behind in global space development.

"If large scale space development projects, such as moon probes or space solar power system, are conducted, not only robots but also people will have to be there. The technology of manned space programs will certainly become the foundation in such cases," the official said.

After failed rocket launches in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Japan's space program has fallen on hard times. However, the government successfully launched its first lunar explorer in 2007, and sent six astronauts to space through international missions.

The only countries that have successfully put people in space with their own rockets are the Soviet Union, United States and China.

Last year, Japan introduced a new space law allowing military use of space after concerns over a developing regional space race and North Korea's nuclear and missile capabilities.

The move ended the country's decades-old pacifist policy.

The law, which allows the military to launch its own satellites for spying and missile launches detection, rules out any offensive weapons in space. The rule opened ways for the nation's space industry to compete globally.

The official said SHSP is set to announce in May its first comprehensive space strategy that will include ideas for military and diplomatic use of space.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has led Japan's space program for years. Last year, the SHSP was founded to oversee the country's comprehensive space strategy.


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