WASHINGTON: A lucky Japanese astronaut will become the first non-American to set foot on the moon during one of Nasa’s upcoming Artemis missions, US President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday.

The offer to Japan — an opportunity many nations have long dreamed of — came as part of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s state visit, and as Washington seeks to strengthen ties with its key Asian ally.

“Two Japanese astronauts will join future American missions, and one will become the first non-American ever to land on the moon,” Biden said in a press conference with Kishida.

Kishida hailed the announcement as a “huge achievement” and announced that Japan would in return supply a rover for the programme.

Nasa’s Artemis programme seeks to return humans to the moon for the first time in over 50 years, and to build a sustained lunar presence ahead of potential missions to Mars.

Between 1969 and 1972, the US Apollo programme saw 12 Americans — all white men — walk on the moon.

Nasa previously announced that the Artemis programme would see the first woman and the first person of colour land on the moon.

“America will no longer walk on the moon alone,” Nasa chief Bill Nelson said in a video published on social media.

“Diplomacy is good for discovery. And discovery is good for diplomacy,” he added.

The first mission to take astronauts to the lunar surface, Artemis 3, is planned for 2026. China has said it seeks to put humans on the moon by 2030.

Japan’s space agency JAXA is “extremely happy” about the announcement, a spokesman said.

“We will do our best to implement the agreement,” including developing the rover for the programme, he said.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2024

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