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Japan to announce participation in US lunar project by year-end

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) -- Japan plans to announce by the end of the year it will participate in a U.S. project to build a lunar orbiting space station, science minister Masahiko Shibayama said Thursday.

Shibayama, the minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, made the remark related to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Gateway project after meeting with the space agency's Administrator Jim Bridenstine in Washington.

"While taking into account developments in the United States and other related parties, we would like to advance coordination with the space policy committee and other related organizations (in Japan) so that we can announce our participation this year," Shibayama said at a press conference.

So far, Canada is the only country to have joined the NASA project involving the lunar Gateway, a space station that will be used as a base for lunar exploration, among other things.

Shibayama said the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is studying what kind of international coordination and technological contributions Japan can provide to the project.

The ministry is also brushing up Japan's "originality and strength" in science and technology as it prepares to join the effort, he said.

Shibayama said Bridenstine did not ask that Japan make specific contributions to the lunar Gateway.

In March, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence pledged to return American astronauts to the Moon by 2024 -- four years earlier than planned under the Gateway project -- raising questions about the future of a lunar space station.

The last people to walk on the Moon were American astronauts from the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

However, NASA has not outlined in detail yet how it will meet the new goal or what is the budget required.

In a joint statement issued after Thursday's meeting, the Japanese ministry and NASA confirmed their interest in "accelerating discussion on lunar exploration, at the Gateway around the Moon and on the lunar surface to be developed along with international and commercial partners, as well as the appropriate mechanisms for such partnerships."

The two sides recognized "their shared long-term vision, based on the strong collaboration over several decades, for creating knowledge and expanding human presence deeper into space through sustainable exploration from low-Earth orbit to the Moon and beyond," the statement said.

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