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2009年12月26日 (土)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 24(IHT/Asahi: December 26,2009)
EDITORIAL: Prolonged stay in space.

Astronaut Soichi Noguchi arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the Russian Soyuz spaceship on Wednesday (Japan time) for a five-month mission to carry out research activities.

Noguchi is the second Japanese to spend a prolonged period in space, following Koichi Wakata, who stayed four and a half months at the space station. His mission ended in July.

Separate half-year stays aboard the ISS for two other Japanese astronauts, Satoshi Furukawa and Akihiko Hoshide, are scheduled for 2011 and 2012, respectively. A new era has dawned, one in which it is not rare to gaze up at the sky with the knowledge that a compatriot is residing in space.

We need to ponder the implications of this and decide how to take advantage of these new opportunities for the future of this nation.

Space is an arena for tackling scientific and technological challenges. Space projects should not be evaluated only from the viewpoint of short-term benefits. Despite severe fiscal restraints, Japan spends some 40 billion yen annually on the space station. It is vital to make the utmost efforts to get the most out of this massive investment.

Rather than stay in a rut, we should take a fresh a broader look at the nation's space program and reconsider its objectives more flexibly.

Japan is the only Asian country that has a laboratory on the ISS. We could use some new brilliant ideas for making strategic use of this advantageous position.

One potentially good idea would be offering other Asian nations opportunities to use the Japanese lab. Some of the experiment slots at the lab, for instance, could be set aside for research projects to be selected from applications from the rest of Asia. Or young Asians could be recruited to join as astronauts. This would be a good way for Japan to capitalize on brilliant talents in other parts of Asia while contributing to the development of the rest of Asia. It would offer great benefits for both sides.

Noguchi's flight to the ISS on the Soyuz spaceship has cast a fresh light on Russia's old but stable space technologies.

The U.S. space shuttle system, designed for repeated space flights, is scheduled to be retired from service in 2010. The first shuttle was launched 30 years ago. Each space shuttle launch costs around 90 billion yen. The program has been beset by two fatal disasters.

In contrast, the Soyuz, whose basic design has remained unchanged for more than a half century, can be launched for several billion yen. No serious accident has occurred for nearly four decades.

Japan should expand its cooperation with Russia, which has many unique ideas about space technology, and Europe, a partner in the ISS program, in a way that allows both sides to benefit from what the partner can offer.

Japan, too, has some space technologies that have received international acclaim, such as its highly refined Kibo experiment module for the space station and the H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV), an unmanned cargo supply spacecraft which successfully completed its first flight to the ISS in September. Japan should make good use of these technologies.

The future of manned space missions after the end of the ISS program depends to a large extent on the space policy of the U.S. administration of President Barack Obama. But it is clear that international cooperation is important for Japan's space program.

The government is now considering a plan for moon exploration using robots. Japan needs a grand strategy for space development that promotes domestic technology for the future growth of the nation.


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