Biden Expands Space Cooperation with South Korea and Japan

Biden Expands Space Cooperation with South Korea and Japan

President Biden is using space, especially the Artemis program, as part of his outreach to South Korea and Japan as he travels in Asia to buttress trade relationships. Both are signatories to the Artemis Accords. Japan, already a partner in the International Space Station, is planning to build part of the lunar Gateway space station and today Biden and Japan’s Prime Minister agreed that a Japanese astronaut will visit Gateway and perhaps the lunar surface.

On Saturday, Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol agreed to strengthening their alliance “across all sectors of space cooperation” and hold the third U.S.-Republic of Korea “Civil Space Dialogue” by the end of this year.

United States-Republic of Korea Leaders’ Joint Statement, May 21, 2022.

Today, Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed to send a Japanese astronaut to Gateway as part of the U.S.-Japan Competitiveness and Resilience (CoRe) Partnership, although a formal implementing agreement still needs to be written.

Biden went further, mentioning that he’d seen Japan’s lunar rover and saying “I’m excited about the work we’ll do together on the Gateway station around the Moon and look forward to the first Japanese astronaut joining us in the mission to the lunar surface under the Artemis program.”

The White House fact sheet calls the lunar landing a “shared ambition.” It also mentions cooperation in space and earth science including giving Japan a sample of asteroid Bennu once it arrives here on Earth next year. Japan gave U.S. scientists samples of asteroid Ryugu returned by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft.

Fact Sheet: The U.S.-Japan Competitiveness and Resilience (CoRe) Partnership, May 23, 2022.

Japan built the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), or Kibo, for the ISS and is partnering with ESA to build the International Habitation (I-Hab) module for Gateway, a small space station that will be placed in lunar orbit to support the Artemis program.

Illustration of the lunar Gateway space station with contributions from international partners. Credit: NASA

Soichi Noguichi and Aki Hoshide are the most recent Japanese astronauts to visit ISS as part of the Crew-1 and Crew-2 missions. Both were aboard at the same time during the handover in April 2021. Koichi Wakata is scheduled to be on Crew-5 later this year.

Japan is in the process of selecting new members of its astronaut corps and they are not required to have academic or other typical qualifications. JAXA reportedly is more interested in flexiblity and leadership skills to find people who could deal with the unique circumstances of living and working on or around the Moon.

The United States and South Korea have not had any human spaceflight cooperation yet, but South Korea’s Yi So-yeon flew to the ISS on a short-duration “tourist” mission in 2006 on Soyuz TMA-12 as part of her government’s astronaut program.

Both countries are signatories to the Artemis Accords, a set of principles developed by the United States that countries must sign if they want to participate in the Artemis program to return astronauts to the lunar surface.

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