Any discussion of Japanese space exploration ought first to mention JAXA, their equivalent to America’s NASA or Europe’s ESA. JAXA is at the heart of Japan’s space exploration efforts, and any Japanese astronauts on the world scene will have been trained by JAXA, so getting familiar with them is a good prerequisite to understanding what’s going down in Japan in terms of space.
JAXA stands for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Their official title in Japanese is 独立行政法人宇宙航空開発機構 (Dokuritsu Gyousei Houjin Uchuu Koukuu Kenkyuu Kaihatsu Kikou), literally meaning something like “Independent Government Organization for the Purpose of Aerospace Research and Development.” Because this is a bit of a mouthful, they tend to call themselves “JAXA” in Japanese as well.
JAXA was founded in 2003 as a merger of three previously independent Japanese space agencies. First you had ISAS (Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, or 宇宙科学研究所 in Japanese), an organization that started in the form of early aerospace efforts at the University of Tokyo, and later moved on to involve many universities across Japan. They got their start sending up rockets in the 50’s and 60’s, and later went on to put a lot of satellites into space to observe atmospheric conditions, comets, the Sun, and more.
Another organization that eventually came to be part of JAXA was NAL (National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan, or 航空宇宙技術研究所 in Japanese), which from the start specialized in research in aircraft, rockets, and manned transport systems for air and space.
The last organization is NASDA (National Space Development Agency of Japan, or 宇宙開発事業団 in Japanese). NASDA was founded in the summer of 1969, virtually on the eve of man’s first landing on the Moon, and it seems they were intended to be the flagship organization of Japan’s space effort; while NAL researched and developed new rockets and ISAS sent up satellites, it was NASDA that focused on building facilities to propel Japan into the space age alongside so many other countries. They built Japan’s largest spaceport, the Tanegashima Space Center, located on the southwest tip of Japan. It was also NASDA that represented Japan’s space effort internationally, and which later went on to pick and train astronauts to represent the country.
A pictorial breakdown of the three agencies that came to form JAXA can be seen here, in an image I’ve translated from JAXA’s site:
As you can see, all three of these organizations performed some pretty impressive feats on their own, and JAXA grew out of all of these accomplishments. In the next post, I’ll tell about some of the cooler things JAXA has done since its formation in 2003. They’ve done some extremely interesting stuff, so look forward to it!