U.S. and Japan to announce plans to send Japanese astronaut to moon

A Japanese astronaut will be the first non-American to travel on a NASA lunar mission, the U.S. and Japan planned to announce on Wednesday, according to a senior U.S. official familiar with the delegations’ plans.

The pledge, which is expected to be announced during Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to Washington to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden, is meant to signal more robust economic and defense ties between the two nations. It marks Washington’s latest move to use the space program to court friendly nations and compete with China in a race to the moon.

The astronaut from Japan will take part in the Artemis program, a NASA-led effort to return astronauts to the moon as early as 2026, more than half a century after the last Apollo mission.

The Biden administration has recorded other big wins in its space diplomacy strategy.

During Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington last September, the two countries announced that NASA would work with India’s space agency on a joint mission to the International Space Station.

New Delhi also agreed to sign the Artemis Accords, a U.S.-backed initiative to establish guidelines for activity on the moon and elsewhere in space.

Japan and India are among three dozen countries to have signed the Artemis Accords, with Greece and Uruguay signing up in February.

China hasn’t signed, instead seeking support for a proposal to cooperate with Russia to establish a research base on the moon.

Beijing, which has committed to sending its first astronauts to the moon by the end of the decade, has had modest success in winning commitments for the lunar research base, with expressions of support from countries such as Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Pakistan and South Africa.

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