JAXA Selects Two New Astronaut Candidates for Future Flights to the Moon
Japan's space agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), has selected two new astronaut candidates after more than 13 years. Makoto Suwa, a risk reduction specialist at the World Bank, and Ayu Yoneda, a surgeon working for the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center, were named by JAXA's president, Hiroshi Yamakawa, in Tokyo on February 28. They will undergo two years of basic training and then be assessed by JAXA for spaceflight assignments. The candidates could be chosen to work on the Gateway or land on the moon as part of NASA's Artemis program.
JAXA's Astronaut Recruitment Process
JAXA began its latest astronaut recruitment process in November 2021, and a record 4,127 applications were received. The selection was Japan's first not to require a college diploma as a base requirement. After a series of exams and screenings, JAXA narrowed the pool down to 50 and then 10 candidates by December 2022. Among the finalists, Suwa was the oldest and Yoneda the youngest.
The New Astronaut Candidates
Suwa, 46, expressed his attachment to the moon and said he wanted to contribute to the Artemis program as much as possible. Yoneda, 28, said she would like to take on the challenge of exploring the lunar surface and pass on her experiences if given the chance to go there. If successful in qualifying as an astronaut, Yoneda will become Japan's third woman to fly into space, after Chiaki Mukai and Naoko Yamazaki, who are both retired from the program.
JAXA's Current Active Astronauts
JAXA currently has six active astronauts, all of whom are men, including Koichi Wakata, who is wrapping up his fifth spaceflight and third long-duration stay aboard the International Space Station. With the addition of the new recruits, JAXA will have a more diverse group of astronauts.
The Artemis Program and Possible Assignments
The Artemis program is NASA's plan to land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon and establish a sustainable human presence there by the end of the decade. JAXA is a partner in the program, and the agency may assign Suwa and Yoneda to work on the Gateway, a NASA-led platform to be built in lunar orbit. They could also be chosen to land on the moon as part of Artemis missions.