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2010年6月 5日 (土)

野口さん帰還 フロンティア開拓に生かそう

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jun. 5, 2010)
Continue exploring the frontier of space
野口さん帰還 フロンティア開拓に生かそう(6月4日付・読売社説)

Astronaut Soichi Noguchi has returned to Earth after an extended stay on the International Space Station. He was in orbit for 163 days, the longest mission ever by a Japanese astronaut.

"The Earth air is refreshing," Noguchi said immediately after his return. He also spoke about Earth's gravity, saying he felt like "something's wrong with my neck."

The ISS is the front line of humankind's advancement into space, a harsh frontier. We appreciate Noguchi's continued efforts to send footage to the Earth with a smile during his stay in space.

Noguchi carried out numerous experiments that could only be done in space. He cultivated muscle fibers in a weightless environment, for example, to further the study of muscular diseases. He also worked to grow enzyme crystals to help develop new materials. All this produced valuable data.

Noguchi's tests also included taking medicine himself.

Japanese astronauts are scheduled to stay on the ISS for extended periods next year and the year after that. Will it be possible to conduct advanced tests that would require more time but could produce results that could be used more effectively?

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is involved in the U.S-led ISS project, and should make the best use of Noguchi's experiences to ensure that astronauts staying on the ISS can produce even more fruitful results.


Project's value questioned

In recent years, objections have been raised about the ISS project, the operational costs of which include an annual Japanese contribution of 40 billion yen. This is because only a few of the experimental achievements made on the ISS have been used for industrial purposes.

Making matters worse, U.S. President Barack Obama said early this year--to the confusion of many--that instead of keeping the station in place until the end of 2015, as initially planned, the ISS operation would likely be extended for at least five years after that.

Even by simple arithmetic, this would require Japan to increase its contribution by more than 200 billion yen. With this in mind, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has started considering whether to continue our nation's involvement in the ISS project when its operations are extended.

Skeptics also note that the aging U.S. space shuttle fleet will be decommissioned by the end of the year, requiring astronauts to rely on Russia for transportation to and from the ISS.


Russia raising prices

The Russian Soyuz spacecraft was used to transport Noguchi to the ISS from Earth and carry him back. It is distinct from U.S. space shuttles in that an astronaut plunges through the atmosphere in a Soyuz capsule, while shuttles sail through the air like winged planes.

Russia has proposed an increase in the cost of transport via the Soyuz, a spaceship that has been used since the initial stage of space development and gained international recognition for its safety--as if to take advantage of other ISS participants' weakness in this area. A rise in transport expenditures could increase the costs of the whole ISS project.

In response, the government has devised a plan to shore up this country's research and development regarding space exploration, with a view to building its own manned spacecraft. The government has said such a project will require an estimated 90 billion yen.

Building a manned spaceship of Japan's own is an ambitious enterprise. But the question is how to finance such a costly undertaking. We hope the government will step up efforts to consider ways and means of further exploring the frontier of the universe.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun,June 4, 2010)
(2010年6月4日01時25分  読売新聞)


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