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Aiming high, Japan’s newly-established space center seeks to promote human habitation on Mars

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Japan's space exploration is looking at planet Mars and beyond (Pic: Courtesy mars.nasa.gov)

With space exploration attracting attention of many nations, Japan too has unveiled its plans to join this elitist club. This was indicated with Kyoto University’s recently established Human Spaceology Center.

World over there is renewed interest in space travel and exploration. For instance, National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s programme – Artemis – plans to send the first crewed flight to the moon many years after the Apollo missions. Also, private initiatives like that of Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic for space travel and Elon Musk’s intention to move people to Mars, are inspiring others.

The Center came up in October and became fully operational in June. Its objective is to do research to facilitate human habitation and life in places located far away from Earth through technology development.

The space camp organised by Kyoto University in collaboration with the University of Arizona (Pic: Courtesy Kyoto University)

The line of Center’s work was evident from its video which showed a strange structure located in red barren desert housing buildings, green tracts, verdant surroundings and also sailing boats in blue water – all on near-vertical walls!

Presenting the potential vision of Mars habitation and living, this video was presented when the University’s Human Spaceology Center was inaugurated.

The strange structure denotes one of Center’s five main areas which is creation of human habitats with earth-like artificial gravity. For this it is working with Kajima, a general contractor.

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Since both the Moon and Mars have low gravity, it is difficult for human beings to maintain and build muscle and bone mass. This is the area of focus for the Center as it will ideate on how to overcome this problem. Incidentally, the gravity of the Moon and Mars is one-sixth and one-third that of Earth.

This apart, the Center will also work in the field of use of wood in space, space education, effects of radiation and also development of technology for space and earth exploration.

According to Yosuke Yamashiki, Director of the Center, the selection of these fields was based on their "potential to leverage Japan's industrial strengths in space”.

With no independent space mission to its name, Japan in order to catch in the space race will forge the strengths of its universities and industries and in fact the space business has already started alluring people and players from other sectors.

In an article which has appeared in asia.nikkei.com, Yamashiki said: "I want to expand the circle of partnerships outside the current framework.”

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The Spaceology Center includes members from NASA and Takao Doi and Naoko Yamazaki, both Japanese astronauts. The organisation after settling its structure has started full-scale activities in earnest.

The Center will also focus on development of human resources. This will include lectures as well as practical training.

A space camp along with the US University of Arizona was organised in 2019 although due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 term was held separately in Japan and US. There are plans for a combined camp in Arizona where undergraduates from the two nations will learn about the terrestrial biosphere and find out if the environment of the Earth can be copied on Mars.

Practical lessons will be provided in forest and sea environments in Japan while Doi, the Japanese astronaut, will share his experiences and knowledge with them.