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2010年4月23日 (金)

日本の宇宙開発 山崎さん活躍でも課題は多い

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Apr. 23, 2010)
Nation's space program faces many challenges
日本の宇宙開発 山崎さん活躍でも課題は多い(4月22日付・読売社説)

Astronaut Naoko Yamazaki has returned to Earth after completing her mission at the International Space Station.

Yamazaki is the first Japanese mother to have gone into space. After she returned, she was reunited with her husband and daughter, who supported her from Earth while she was on her 15-day mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery. We would like to thank Yamazaki for her sterling efforts.

The space shuttle fleet, which has been in service for about 30 years, will be retired this year. The latest flight was the last to carry a Japanese astronaut into space.

Yamazaki assumed a heavy responsibility as a loadmaster charged with delivering supplies to the ISS, as well as conducting experiments to culture rat muscle cells and study the effect of the zero-gravity atmosphere on the cells.

She even managed to find the time to put on a kimono and play the koto while she was in orbit.


Calls for review growing

What does Japan hope to achieve in space? Japan has long considered its involvement in the international partnership behind the ISS to be a central pillar of its manned space activity. But recently, calls for a review of this policy have been getting louder.

A typical example is the proposal compiled this week by a panel of experts for Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Seiji Maehara, who is in charge of space development. The panel recommended the government reexamine the benefits of the current space development program.

Japan has attached great importance to being part of the international team involved with the ISS, primarily because it is more efficient--in both money and time--than singlehandedly developing a manned craft for space exploration. The government believed this strategy would provide valuable experience in space activities.

Even so, Japan spends 40 billion yen on ISS-related activities, out of the annual 200 billion yen budget for the space program, excluding national security-related expenses.

Yet there have so far been only a few space experiments that have eventually led to discoveries that can have an industrial application. Applications to conduct tests using the Kibo experiment module--now part of the space station--have only trickled in.

The panel's proposal has been worked out based on these realities. The proposal did not rule out that Japan might withdraw from the ISS program in the future, and suggested that this budget could then be diverted to satellite development or other projects.


U.S. sets new goals

The new space strategy announced this spring by the United States, a leading power in space development, has added to the pressure on Japan to review its space program.

The U.S. government has decided to entrust the private sector with developing manned spacecraft to replace the space shuttles, and canceled the manned lunar exploration that had been a recent pet project in Washington.

The new goal is manned exploration to Mars in the 2030s. The United States also decided to extend the operation of the ISS by five years until 2020.

Accordingly, the international agreement concerning operation of the space station, which is good until 2015, will be extended by five years. Will Japan join the extended program?

Russia is now the only nation that can provide manned transport of equipment and supplies to the ISS for the time being. But will the cost of these missions increase as a result?

Should Japan pull out of the ISS, the country will lag behind in space development. Japan must make some difficult choices.

The current administration, however, has not held a single meeting of the space development strategy headquarters of the Prime Minister's Office, which is supposed to be the control tower on the matter. This is quite irresponsible.

We hope the administration will become more constructively involved in this issue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 22, 2010)
(2010年4月22日01時19分  読売新聞)


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