Thrawn Rickle 41

Japan in Space

© 1993 Williscroft

The United States commitment to space development has again been pared back. Our long-term goal still is to place a permanent human presence on the moon and on our sister planet, Mars, within the next few decades, but except for a statement of intent, we are doing precious little to make this happen.

In the meantime, several other nations on this planet are surging ahead with ambitious plans to exploit this open-ended frontier. Among these with, perhaps, the most ambitious plans of all is Japan.

According to Ad Astra, the official voice of the National Space Society, sixty-six Japanese companies have formed an industrial council called the Keidanren that works to influence Japanese government space policy. Annually the Keidanren spends more than twice what the government spends on space related research. In late 1990 it recommended that the Japanese government double the National Space Development Agency (NASDA) budget, because it feels that space technology and development is critical to Japan’s future.

In Ad Astra, Editor-in-Chief A. Royce Dalby reports the comments of MIT’s Dan Hastings: Unlike U.S. industry, Japanese space-related business philosophy “emphasizes long-range possibilities rather than short-term gains.”

Japanese construction giants, Shimizu Corporation and Ohbayashi Corporation, lead the way. Shimizu is designing orbital hotels that it expects to open for business within twenty-five years, hotels featuring microgravity sporting events that will be televised around the world. Shimizu also plans to build an ultra-modern commercial Pacific spaceport within the next two decades.

 Ohbayashi is planning a Lunar City near one of the moon’s poles that will house 10,000 people including 2,000 tourists by 2050. Its plans even include appropriate diversions to keep the residents occupied.

These are not pipe dreams, but solid, well financed plans by century-old firms for whom twenty or thirty years is a normal planning scale.

In 1989 the Horie Group, a Japanese trading company, purchased a backup Mir space station (20-metric-tons) and a Kvant module (11-metric-tons) from the U.S.S.R. which they plan to modify for use by the firms currently constructing the Japanese Experimental Module (JEM), Japan’s contribution to Space Station Freedom. Kawasaki is working on a 100-metric-ton space station, and the National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL) is working on a 300-metric-ton version.

These incredibly ambitious plans completely dwarf current U.S. efforts, and—unlike our own NASA—these mostly private plans remain essentially unhampered by government bureaucracy.

Ad Astra quotes John Logsdon, Director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University: “In traditional Japanese thinking, learning from another is only a step in the process of catching up and ultimately assuming a leadership position.”

Authors of futuristic stories usually assume the dominant human language of tomorrow’s spacefarers will be English. The way things are going, an educational requirement of future astronauts and cosmonauts may well be fluency in Japanese.