Congress Applauds U.S.-Japan Artemis Cooperation

Congress Applauds U.S.-Japan Artemis Cooperation

Congress gave Japanese Prime Minister Kishida a standing ovation today when he spoke about plans for a Japanese astronaut to land on the Moon as part of the U.S.-led Artemis program. Kishida and President Biden announced yesterday that a Japanese astronaut will be the first non-American on the lunar surface and Japan will provide a pressurized lunar rover.

Speaking before a joint meeting of the House and Senate this morning, Kishida, 66, charmed his audience with tales of growing up in Queens as a young boy when his father, a government trade official, was posted to New York. He was six years old when he came here in the early 1960s and attended elementary school in Queens for three years. He joked that he missed the Flintstones when he left, but was never able to translate yabba-dabba-doo into Japanese.

Japanese Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio speaking to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, April 11, 2024. Screengrab.

On a more serious note, he recalled that the 1964 World’s Fair was held in Queens and the theme was Peace Through Understanding. His speech focused on world affairs and the critical role of the United States, vowing that “the people of Japan are with you, side by side, to assure the survival of liberty not just for our people, but for all people.”

Near the end, he turned to cooperation on the Artemis program, introducing two astronauts in the gallery: HOSHIDE Akihiko (JAXA), who most recently was a member of Crew-2, his third spaceflight, and Japanese-American astronaut Dan Tani (NASA) who made two spaceflights before retiring from NASA in 2012.

Wearing blue astronaut jackets, JAXA astronaut HOSHIDE Akihiko (L) and NASA astronaut Dan Tani (R) in the audience while Japanese Prime Minister Kishida addresses a joint meeting of Congress, April 11, 2024. Screengrab.

Again harkening back to his childhood, Kishida said the television broadcast of Apollo 11, the first human landing on the Moon in 1969, “is still seared into my memory.” He then pointed out that Japan achieved the first pin-point lunar landing in January with its robotic Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM).  Now the United States and Japan are going to the Moon together.

Yesterday, President Biden and I announced that a Japanese national will be the first non-American astronaut to land on the Moon on a future Artemis mission. — Prime Minister Kishida

That prompted a standing ovation from Congress.

House and Senate members rise to applaud Japanese Prime Minister Kishida’s statement that a Japanese astronaut will land on the Moon on a future U.S. Artemis mission. Screengrab.

Congress, of course, must fund Artemis. NASA’s FY2024 budget was cut not only far below the President’s request, but below its FY2023 level. Artemis fared better than the rest of NASA’s portfolio, but it still was a substantial reduction and the FY2025 request is similarly constrained because of funding caps imposed by last year’s Fiscal Responsibility Act.

The agreement to send a Japanese astronaut to the Moon and build U.S.-Japan cooperation in other areas is taking place against the backdrop of concerns about China.

China is planning to send taikonauts to the Moon by 2030 and the United States is determined to get U.S. astronauts back there first, so winning congressional support for Artemis is critical. The plan right now is for two NASA astronauts to land in September 2026 on the Artemis III mission, but that is dependent on funding and on the pace of the development of the Starship Human Landing System by SpaceX and spacesuits by Axiom Space.

No date has been set for when a Japanese astronaut will join an American astronaut on the surface. Asked about that yesterday, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said it depends on when a Japanese astronaut is ready for such an assignment and the cadence of the Artemis missions.

The agreement actually is for two lunar landings by Japanese astronauts in exchange for Japan providing a pressurized lunar rover to allow astronauts to traverse long distances in a shirtsleeve environment. NASA awarded contracts to three U.S. companies last week to conduct feasibility studies for an unpressurized rover, but the astronauts have to wear spacesuits when using it. That limits how far they can travel to the consumables in those suits. NASA anticipates the unpressurized rover will be available by the end of the decade and the pressurized rover by 2031.


Note: In Japan, a person’s family name appears first, followed by the first name. For convenience in western cultures the family name is capitalized to make the distinction. We have followed that custom here.

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