Japan could beat China to put astronaut on Moon as it teams up with US for new space race

Japan could beat China to put astronaut on Moon as it teams up with US for new space race

Japan may beat China to put boots on the Moon as US president Joe Biden promised that a Japanese astronaut would be the first non-American to land on the lunar surface amid what Nasa calls a new “space race”.

Under the plan outlined by Mr Biden and Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida on 10 April, Japan would work closely with the US to put one of its astronauts on the Moon as part of Nasa’s Artemis missions first in 2028 and again in 2032.

This puts Japan in competition with China, which previously announced plans to put astronauts on the Moon by 2030.

China also plans to construct a joint Moon base with Russia by 2035 amid what Nasa’s chief Bill Nelson has repeatedly called a new “space race”.

“We believe that a lot of their so-called civilian space programme is a military programme. And I think, in effect, we are in a race,” Mr Nelson said earlier this month, referring to China.

Now, Japan’s ambition to land ahead of China may prompt Beijing to amp up its own plans, analysts told the South China Morning Post.

China has already stepped up its space programme, successfully building its space station and planning to land a probe on the lunar far side, which permanently faces away from Earth, in the coming days.

China could also begin exploring the Moon’s south pole for water through uncrewed missions planned for 2026 and 2028.

“China has made extraordinary strides, especially in the last 10 years, but they are very, very secretive,” said Mr Nelson, who has repeatedly warned that China may claim any lunar water resources as its own.

“China has really thrown a lot of money at it and they’ve got a lot of room in their budget to grow. I think that we just better not let down our guard,” the Nasa chief added.

Meanwhile, the proposed joint mission by the US and Japan would rely on Japanese expertise to operate a pressurised rover on the Moon while the US would provide flight and astronaut training and “manage the risks of these challenging and inspiring lunar surface missions,” according to the White House.

“They are very aware that they are competing with China in exploration of the moon, so this is going to be the Apollo programme on steroids,” Kazuto Suzuki, a professor of science and technology policy at Tokyo University, said.