Japan Considers Moon Landing For 2018, Trying To Keep Pace With China

Japan is considering a moon landing in 2018 as its regional rivals increase investment in aerospace. In a return to the Apollo days, the mission would be unmanned, but the prospects of an Asian space race is exciting to some space watchers.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) gave a proposal for the lunar landing to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology on Monday. The project still requires funding, but there’s at least one reason to believe Japan will start investing heavily in its space program: competition.

Japan has fallen behind China, and it could potentially slip behind other emerging powers like India. According to CNN, China has completed five manned spaceflight missions with their Shenzhou “Divine Vessel” modules, making it the 3rd country to send someone into orbit.

Japan, on the other hand, has never launched a human into space, although a Japanese astronaut did hitch a ride to the International Space Station. China also has its eyes set on an eventual moon landing. In October of last year, China launched an unmanned spacecraft to orbit the moon, a precursor to a landing.

China’s large strides have Japan’s government fearing a “power imbalance” in space according to ABC News.

A document from Shinzo Abe’s government stated, “There are areas of unlimited potential yet to be developed, and to boost controls of future threats it is important to minimize the power vacuum in space exploration.”

“A revival of competition and cooperation in moon exploration adds to the imperative for us to quickly achieve moon exploration.”

Still, JAXA has to get over a number of obstacles, starting with money.

The agency’s budget hasn’t increased in five years, still at a measly $1.5 billion (America spent roughly $40 billion on space flight in 2013, and China spent about $11 billion according to RT). Japan’s space program also doesn’t have a large military infrastructure to help with development.

Nevertheless, there are hopes that Prime Minister Abe will increase spending as part of his plans to develop technologies with defense applications. JAXA also recently reorganized and teamed up with the Science and Technology Agency, which might allow them to gain more resources.

Likewise, Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, has been showing off satellite pictures of the aurora borealis and Japanese islands at night to drum up interest in space tourism.

If JAXA’s plans receive funding and approval, Japan will still be about a year behind. China plans to land on the moon in 2017, and to recover soil samples. A second place prize in a race to the moon with China would have seemed unimaginable in 1970, when Japan became the first Asian country to launch a satellite in orbit.

In the meantime, other organizations are trying to leapfrog over the moon and get right to Mars. As previously reported by the Inquisitr, the controversial non-profit Mars One has already selected a group of finalists for a $6 billion one-trip to colonize Mars. Although many doubt the project will get off the ground, at least one prospective Mars explorer is already making plans to have the first Martian baby.

As for Japan’s plans for a moon landing, it might only be one aspect of the country’s catch-up plan for space exploration, but it might be enough to galvanize the government and people to go even further.

[Image Credit: Getty Images]