Japan will recruit astronauts next year, first time in the past 13 years, the government announced on Friday.

Addressing a news conference, Japan’s Education and Science Minister Koichi Hagiuda said the aim is to have a Japanese national on the moon for the first time in the latter half of the 2020s.

Japan has seven astronauts as part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAEA) and three of them have already traveled to outer space, Kyodo News Agency reported.

The government will seek applications in later part of 2021 and the selected group of astronauts may be part of a US-led lunar exploration project.

It is the first time since 2008 that Japan is recruiting astronauts.

“We will solicit applications around every five years from now on to maintain a group of astronauts [in readiness],” Hagiuda said.

A record 963 people had applied for astronaut’s position when the JAEA had sought applications 13 years ago.

The US is aiming to send humans to the moon by 2024, under Artemis program, for the first time since NASA’s 1972 Apollo 17 mission.

Tokyo joined the US-led international agreement Artemis program earlier this month. The project seeks to establish a “set of principles for space exploration, including lunar resource extraction”. 

Also, Tokyo and Washington had agreed in July to cooperate on NASA-led lunar exploration.

Under the agreement, Japanese crew with opportunities on the Gateway, a small spaceship that will orbit the moon, will journey to the lunar surface.

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