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NASA, Japan Consider Joint Crewed Moon Missions

Hiroshi Yamakawa, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine signed a statement on lunar exploration on Sept. 24, 2019, in Tokyo.
Hiroshi Yamakawa, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine signed a statement on lunar exploration on Sept. 24, 2019, in Tokyo. (Image credit: NASA/Matt Rydin)

Japan may join NASA in the American agency's push to bring humans to the moon, NASA said in a statement.

If the two agencies partner on missions, Japan may assist with NASA's missions on the Gateway — a lunar space station — and, perhaps, with astronaut excursions on the surface. President Donald Trump's administration has tasked NASA to land humans on the moon again by 2024.

In exchange, NASA may provide a spot for Japanese cubesats on the first NASA Artemis mission. Artemis I will see an uncrewed spacecraft loop around the moon before returning to Earth in a flight scheduled for no earlier than mid-2020. NASA may also collaborate on a future Japanese robotic mission known as Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon (SLIM), which will be trying techniques for pinpoint landings.

Related: Tiny Satellites Launch From Space Station (Photos)

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine signed a joint statement on cooperation on lunar exploration on Sept. 24 with Hiroshi Yamakawa, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

"The moon is the first major step to putting astronauts on Mars," Bridenstine said in a statement. "Expanding collaboration between NASA and JAXA to advance human lunar surface activities ultimately will lead to further exploration of Mars — something that will benefit not only our two countries, but all of humanity."

Japan and NASA are already partners on several missions, including the ongoing crewed International Space Station program. Japan has sent several astronauts to the orbiting complex. It has also sent the station's Kibo module, a robotic arm, a small satellite-launching facility and numerous cargo ships — not to mention experiments and equipment.  

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for Space.com who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.

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