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2014年5月16日 (金)

若田さん帰還 国際政治に翻弄されるISS

The Yomiuri Shimbun 11:00 pm, May 15, 2014
Even after Wakata’s triumph, ISS buffeted by international politics
若田さん帰還 国際政治に翻弄されるISS

Astronaut Koichi Wakata, the first Japanese commander of the International Space Station, returned to Earth aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft on Wednesday.

Let us praise him for completing his mission successfully.

During his six-month mission, he conducted various scientific experiments, including one to develop a new medicine, and released an ultra-compact satellite into space. He has also successfully carried out the extremely difficult task of having a U.S. supply ship dock with the ISS by maneuvering a robotic arm.

It can be said that Wakata’s accomplishments have demonstrated the advanced state of Japanese space technologies.

Yet, with the United States and Russia each taking a critical role and 13 other participants involved including Japan, the ISS faces a critical situation.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin made clear recently that Russia’s cooperation with the United States on operating the ISS would not extend past the year 2020, implying it would act in retaliation to the U.S. sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

Currently, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft is the only vehicle available to transport astronauts between the ISS and Earth. Last month, Rogozin took to social media, saying “U.S. astronauts should use trampolines” rather than Russian rockets to get to the ISS. He also hinted at the possibility of Russia’s operating the ISS single-handedly, saying that the ISS is structured so that Russia can operate it independently.

The ISS was launched with a U.S. call for preventing Russia’s space technologies from spreading to countries in conflict, following the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Recent developments have once again brought to the fore the current situation in which the ISS is being tossed about by international politics.

The United States is considering the possibility of tightening sanctions on Russia. If so, Russia may further solidify its stance.

Ripples from earthly tension

The aggravated conflict between the United States and Russia will exert a great impact on space development within the international community. There is also a likelihood that Russia’s export of its rocket engines to the United States and bilateral cooperation aimed at improving the accuracy of the global positioning system will both be reviewed.

China is moving ahead with its own manned space development for military purposes. Rogozin has also made reference to Russia’s reinforcement of its cooperative ties with China. With the collapse of the U.S.-Russia partnership, which has held China in check, the overall structure of the world’s space development may greatly change.

Should such a development occur, Japan’s space strategy will be shaken to its very foundations.

Japan contributes ¥36 billion annually to the ISS project. While sending astronauts regularly, it has built and managed a space experiment module.

Although the financial burden involved is heavy, it is important that Japan has proven itself able to build a livable human habitat in space, an ability that had belonged exclusively to the United States, Russia and China.

The presence of Japan, which assumes a pivotal role in ferrying supplies to the ISS from Earth, has become indispensable. Japan’s contribution has also proved useful for boosting its ties with the United States, which wants to keep the ISS operational.

Japan plans to send two astronauts to the ISS in 2015 and 2016. But dark clouds loom over the plan’s realization. There is also the prospect of immense damage to Japan’s space industry, which has promoted robotics and other technological developments on the assumption of the continued operation of the ISS.

The government needs to expedite its efforts to gather relevant information and develop strategies for the days ahead.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 15, 2014)


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