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To mark the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing, the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) Alternative Investment, Aerospace and Defense, and Special Events Committees welcomed Jim Bridenstine, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), to share his insights into space exploration and partnerships with the commercial and international space industries.

Bridenstine kicked off the event at Tokyo American Club on September 25 by emphasizing the importance of international relations when it comes to space exploration—primarily, the far-reaching work done on the International Space Station (ISS). Astronauts from 18 countries—including Japan—have operated the ISS, and experiments from more than 100 nations have been conducted there.

Bridenstine said, “This has not just been a marvel of technological achie­vement, it has also been a marvel of diplomatic achievement.”

“We are working hard to make sure that the nation of Japan and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is with us when we begin our next journey in space exploration—mainly going to the moon and on to Mars.”

Due to technological limitations, the ISS cannot last forever, explained Bridenstine. Not only does this pose a challenge for planned missions to the moon and Mars, the ISS has also been the base for developing breakthrough industrialized biomedicines and materials such as fiber optics.

Bridenstine said that the transformational capabilities being developed would change lives on earth, and that the day is coming when habitation in low earth orbit is going to be driven by the private sector. Low earth orbit is defined as 90–600 miles (140–970 kilometers) above the earth’s surface. “We need to start thinking today about what comes next. And, of course, international partnerships are a big part of what comes next.”

NASA has already established such partnerships in the area of commercial resupply. The night before the event, Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. successfully launched the eighth H-II transfer vehicle to carry supplies and experimental materials to the ISS.

The next step for NASA is commercial crews. “Within a year, we will be launching astronauts to the International Space Station [in cases] where NASA is not purchasing, owning, or operating the hardware,” Bridenstine said. “Instead, we are buying services for low earth orbit.”

He described a robust commercial marketplace in space that enables NASA to do more. “We want to be one customer of many customers. That’s what drives down our costs and increases our access. We also want to have numerous providers that are competing against each other on cost and innovation.”

Bridenstine assured guests that NASA and JAXA will always have a presence in low earth orbit, but they want to “be the tenant, not the landlord.” If they can achieve this, the agencies can put more government resources into areas where there is not yet a commercial market­place: the moon and beyond.

Upcoming plans include the Artemis program, an ongoing, crewed spaceflight initiative that involves NASA, commercial spaceflight companies, and international partners, such as JAXA and the European Space Agency. According to NASA, the Artemis program’s mission is to land “the first woman and the next man” on the moon. The agency then wants to “lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy” and eventually send humans to Mars.

But to reach the moon safely and efficiently, a command module is needed, and NASA is considering construction of a crewed spaceport in lunar orbit that would serve as a gateway to deep space. “The architecture that we are building has reusability built into it. The more reusability we have, the more access and lower cost we’re going to have,” Bridenstine said.

He also stressed that, because they are competing on cost, commercial crews, suppliers, and partners must reuse their systems to further drive down cost and increase access for NASA.

A long-term program of sustainable exploration on and around the moon, the Artemis program is planning to return humans to the surface of the moon by 2024.

Aaron Baggett is a staff writer at Custom Media for The ACCJ Journal.

Photos: Embassy of the United States, Tokyo
We are working hard to make sure that . . . the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is with us when we begin our next journey.