Starry-eyed space buffs rejoice! Japan is shooting for the moon (or at the very least will start preparations in two years).

Equipped with everything from star fighter buses to galaxy-print desserts to alien ramen, Japan has held an unrequited love affair for outer space for a long time. While America, China and Russia have had extensive space programs for decades, there has been a lack of upward throttle when it comes to Japanese space travel. In fact, the country’s current space program JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) is a merger of three independent agencies that were spurred to combine after multiple failed launches.

That may be about to change, however. In a press release on August 16, JAXA announced that they were planning to build the first manned Japanese lunar aircraft in history. JAXA will collaborate with the plans of American and European space agencies, aiming to start production in 2020. Ideally the finished aircraft will head for the moon ten years later!

▼ In one of the promotional images for the project JAXA breaks down the necessary components and which countries will contribute them

According to the proposed plans, the ‘lander’ (device responsible for anchoring to the moon’s surface) will be developed by Japan and will look a bit like a table with four legs. It will be jettisoned from a space station orbiting the moon (that one’s NASA’s responsibility, a follow-up to the International Space Station forecast to launch in 2022).

The Japanese lander will descend on the Moon with a European spacecraft perched snugly ontop of it. The spacecraft can house four astronauts, and once the entire construction lands on the surface the astronauts can alight onto the Moon itself. The lander will use reverse-thrust engines to allow a cushiony landing, and its plateau will also serve as a launch pad for the astronauts’ space craft so that they can travel between the surface of the Moon and the orbiting space station.

Also included in the plans is an exploration vehicle, due to be developed by the Canadian space team. The lunar team will use this space-age terrain car to take a two-day research expedition around the lunar landscape, and then return to the space station – leaving the lander where it is.

These excursions are expected to last about four or five days from when the astronauts depart from the base until they return, and JAXA hopes to carry out five of the expeditions per year. This will be the first manned moon trip proposed by Japan, and the first moon trip by anyone at all in 60 years! A real moment for the history books.

▼ JAXA’s unmanned moon lander SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) has been in development since 2016, but how will things go with a manned one?

There are a few doubtful voices throughout the Internet – but space travel is space travel, and it’s very easy to get swept up in the excitement that Japan is considering taking a rocket ride into the stratosphere at all.

“The rest of Japan is going to the pits, but at least JAXA is working hard!”
“Say your prayers, astronauts.”
“Whether it’s possible or not, it’s a step in the right direction for Japan to think seriously about space travel.”
“Enough with the moon already! Let’s go to an asteroid or something instead. I’m so tired of the moon, we go there all the time.”

It’s going to set JAXA back well over 10 trillion yen (US$91,032,810,000) to set up this lunar procedure, so maybe it’s time they arranged a donation drive, or at least something to boost awareness. Maybe they can take some pointers from the U.S. military?

Source: Sankei News via Otakomu
Featured image: Flickr/coniferconifer
Insert image: JAXA SLIM press release