With NASA’s focus on Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and as many exoplanets as it can spot, it’s easy to forget that our closest neighbor — the moon — is still a pretty interesting place to visit. Japan plans to do just that, announcing plans to send a manned mission to the surface of the moon close to 2030, and the newly revealed plans are heating up the space race between asian countries, most notably China.
JAXA — the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency — announced its intentions in a new proposal, marking the first time the country has expressed interest in a manned mission to the moon. Japan already has had astronauts visit the International Space Station, and JAXA’s Koichi Wakata is a veteran of several different space missions as well as a resident of the ISS for nearly 350 days.
Japan’s announcement has some pretty interesting timing, considering neighboring China is just starting to expand on its space interests. The country announced late last year that it is planning to send a rover to Mars as soon as 2020, while also noting that it plans to set foot on the moon, though the timeline for that mission has yet to be fleshed out.
Speaking with CNN, a JAXA spokesperson offered a bit of insight into the planned moon mission, noting that the plan wasn’t for the country to send its own rocket, but to contribute to a multinational effort which would allow Japan to send an astronaut along for the ride. It’s far from a sure thing at this point, but it’s clear Japan wants a piece of the lunar pie.