The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

In its efforts to keep pushing the boundaries of space exploration, NASA is eager to link up with partners in Asia on future missions, the head of the US agency’s Planetary Science Division told the Nikkei Asian Review during a visit to Japan in mid-March.

James Green said Asian countries’ space exploration efforts had been “really expanding over the past several years.” And at NASA, he said, “We think partnerships are very important.”

Green pointed to NASA’s existing relationship with the Indian Space Research Organization. The ISRO has sent a probe to the moon and an orbiter to Mars, and Green said the agencies are discussing the Indian organization’s next Mars missions. He called the ISRO’s Mars endeavors “a huge step for Asia.” He said his team had been in Bangalore two weeks earlier and discussed with ISRO scientists how they could correlate data from the two space agencies’ Mars missions.

NASA also works with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Green said there are plans to partner with the United Arab Emirates as well. He said the UAE and NASA had started to discuss the Emirates’ Mars exploration plans.

Space travel has so far been led by governments, but Green said the private sector is set to play an increasingly prominent role. He called this “an important next step” and said commercial ventures could, for example, provide food and materials to a space station. “As companies realize that there may be profits to be made, they are moving in the direction where they can effectively compete and make a profit, and actually take over things that NASA used to do.”

When asked about how NASA encourages private companies’ investment in space exploration, he answered, “I think by what we do, the excitement that comes from what we do.” He added, “The knowledge that we are not going to stop, we are going to keep doing those [missions] allows them to figure out where they fit in.”

Green held an open lecture at the Tokyo Institute of Technology on March 15, titled, “The Martian: Science Fiction & Science Fact.” The talk mainly covered NASA’s Mars exploration efforts and the recent Hollywood blockbuster The Martian, for which the agency offered technical advice.

Green impressed his audience of roughly 100 with an image of Mars 3.5 billion years ago. The red planet looked a lot like Earth does now, with blue oceans and swaths of green land. He also surprised the audience by showing that the sunset on Mars is blue, not red. In the interview, he said, “Everyone in this field got in this field because [they were] excited by what was happening. I hope today some of the students made the decision to get in this field.”

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Commercial ventures could provide food and materials to a space station.