TOKYO — Japan's space agency is considering a robotic mission to the moon by 2018 or early 2019, part of an effort to beef up aerospace technology and keep pace with China and other emerging powers. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, included the possibility of a lunar landing in the fiscal year that begins April 1, 2018, in its summary of moon exploration plans by Japan and other countries.
Japanese media reported that JAXA presented the proposal to a government panel of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology on Monday. The agency still needs to win funding for the lunar mission, known as Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM. But it is raising hopes for a revival of space exploration.
Japan has long been one of the world's leading space-faring nations and was the first Asian country, in 1970, to put a satellite into orbit around the Earth. But in recent years the program has been crimped by a shoestring budget. Unlike many space programs, it cannot rely on military budgets or projects to develop its rocket capabilities.
A mission to Mars in 1998 that was plagued by technical glitches failed and was finally abandoned in 2003. In the meantime, China has made big strides, putting astronauts into space and sending a lander and a rover to the moon.
JAXA's long-term proposal calls for stationing robotic and remote-controlled probes on the moon — and also leaves the way open for human trips to the moon after 2025, in cooperation with international partners.
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