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From a young age, Naoko Yamazaki was fascinated by space. She grew up watching anime about intergalactic adventures and would often go to the local planetarium with her brother. So, it was perhaps no surprise that she would go on to become only the second Japanese woman ever to go into space—taking part in a mission to the International Space Station in 2010.

In an interview with the Nikkei Asian Review, Yamazaki discussed everything from Asia’s role in the space race to when living on other planets will become a reality—even what the recent wave of protectionism sweeping through global politics means for space exploration.

What is your assessment of recent trends in space development?
Space development used to be run by the governments of powerful countries. Now, more and more entities are taking part: not just countries, but private companies as well. Government-led programs have to be funded by taxpayers, meaning there are constraints on size and scope. But with private parties getting involved, the scope of space development opens up.

The international framework for space activities goes all the way back to the 1960s, with the Outer Space Treaty. But with so many private companies getting involved, there is a need for different guidelines.

I think in order for space development to expand further, governments need to come up with a framework that makes it easy for the private sector to enter the field, as Japan did with its Space Activities Act. Most countries do not have such laws, and I think other Asian countries will need similar measures in the future.

Where does Asia stand in the space development race?
Activities are gathering pace in two fields: development of satellites for data use in everyday lives, and space exploration in anticipation of the future. Asian countries are building a strong track record. China became the third country to launch a manned spacecraft in 2003, while India [succeeded in having its] Mars Orbiter Mission successfully enter Mars orbit in 2014—making it the first Asian country to do so. Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries used to rely on other countries’ satellites for space data for use in things like disaster prevention, but they are entering a phase where they can start building their own satellites. The microsatellite that the Philippines launched in 2016 is a good example.

Yamazaki sets off for the International Space Station from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2010.

How long will it be before people live in space?
If you look at the International Space Station [(ISS)], people have been staying there for the past 15 years, albeit in turns. Water gets recycled there, urine is distilled and sterilized and turned into drinking water. Even air is recycled, with carbon dioxide being turned into oxygen. The technology to allow humans to live in space is already there.

What is holding things back is the cost of sending people into space; it is still too expensive. The cost of sending 1 kilogram into space is about ¥1 million ($8,850), so there is a limit to how much we can take up there and who can actually go. But there are companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin trying to bring the cost down.

I think that within 100 years, humans will land on Mars. And not just land, but some will choose to live there. I also think that there will be more people going on trips into space, not just to the moon and Mars, but closer to the Earth as well.

Will we one day see, say, a Japanese astronaut going into space on board a Chinese or Indian spacecraft?
I think so. Space is an area where it is fairly easy to cooperate internationally. A case in point would be the Apollo–Soyuz Mission during the Cold War.

There are 15 countries taking part in the ISS, but the program is scheduled to end in around 2024. People are starting to think about the next phase. There are many options like [joint exploration of] the moon, Mars or asteroids, and within that working group are countries like China, India, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates, all countries which are not part of the present framework. I hope that the next stage for cooperation in space will be more inclusive and have a positive effect on relationships on the ground as well.

But the world seems to be moving in a different direction, and is increasingly becoming inward-looking. How do you see that affecting things?

I think it is true that many countries are trying to introduce policies that are more inward-looking.

In a spaceship, there are no boundaries, and people from different backgrounds and nationalities live together. They obviously carry the national interests of their own countries, but, beyond that, we all strive to realize the bigger goal of keeping the spaceship working, and to conduct successful missions.

This has been said many times, but looking at the Earth from outer space, the planet looks like a spaceship itself. From that perspective, there are different national interests, but I hope that we will all strive to achieve our one big common goal: to sustain Earth and make it a better place.

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Within 100 years, humans will land on Mars . . . some will choose to live there.