Japan selects two new astronauts with focus on supporting Artemis Moon missions

In a short statement, Japan’s space agency, JAXA, announced it has selected two astronauts to join its corp to continue supporting the ISS and future Artemis missions.

Makoto Suwa, 46, and Ayu Yoneda, 28, are the two Japanese citizens chosen from this year’s selection that featured over 4,000 applicants. The two will undergo two years of training before being certified as astronauts. Only then will they be allowed to join missions to the ISS and the Moon through NASA‘s Artemis Program.

First selection since 2009

Unlike NASA, JAXA’s astronaut corp is much smaller, totaling seven (now nine), due to less frequent flights to space, relying on US and Russian spacecraft to reach the International Space Station. As a partner member of the ISS, Japan has supported the station in many ways. For example, the country provided one of the large laboratory modules, launched uncrewed supply missions, and provided astronauts to work on the orbiting platform.

The last time JAXA selected astronauts was in 2009 for the sole purpose of supporting missions to the ISS. Those three astronauts, Kimiya Yui, Takuya Onishi, and Norishige Kanai, have each flown once to the ISS, and Yui now serves as the JAXA’s chief astronaut.

First JAXA astronauts specified for Artemis flights

Japan joined the Artemis Program in 2021 with an agreement that would have JAXA provide capabilities to NASA’s Gateway lunar space station, and in return, Japan would get seats to fly out there.

Suwa and Yoneda are the first on the JAXA astronaut corp to be selected to support these missions. It’s possible other JAXA astronauts could be selected, but like NASA’s cadre of Artemis astronauts selected a few years ago, these are the ones to watch for potential first crew assignments.

NASA has been teasing its selection for Artemis 2, the first crewed flight of the Space Launch System, for a while now. So finally, we should hear who will be the first human to fly to the moon in over 50 years in the coming months, but boy it is hard to wait.

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