Earlier this month, the land of the rising sun decided to reverse its robotic space policy and actually embrace the idea of sending flesh and blood to explore the heavens above.
(Mainichi Daily News) The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) wants "to have the technology for independent manned missions," President Keiji Tachikawa announced last month, in a reversal of Japan's policy against manned space exploration.
The plan on manned space missions was due to be mentioned in a meeting of an expert panel at the government's space development strategy headquarters on Friday. While not setting any specific time frame, it does call for a review of current policy on manned space missions as part of plans for the proposed Space Solar Power System (SSPS), and a future manned mission to the moon.
This is a smart (although late) move for Japan, who had to watch as their rival China conducted its first spacewalk (establishing the Asian giant as the dominant space power).
Although Japan has successfully launched a satellite around the Moon (in HD nonetheless), they need to place more emphasis on sending their own citizens into space, especially now that China is intent on building a military space station by the end of next year.
Unlike their silicon beasts that roam the heavens above, a human presence will help the Japanese establish a public claim to outer space (as robots can always be blasted out of the sky without raising too much public outrage).
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