Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has selected two new astronaut candidates from among more than 4,000 people who applied in 2022.
This is the first selection since 2009 in which Kimiya Yui (now Head of the Astronaut Corps), Norishige Kanai, and Takuya Oni were chosen.
Starting in April and over the next two years, the two candidates will train in Japan and abroad to be certified as astronauts and will be able to take part in JAXA space missions, such as activities on the International Space Station (ISS), on the lunar orbital station Gateway and other projects.
The pair will become the 12th and 13th people sent into space by JAXA and may become the first Japanese to land on the Moon under NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface and send the first humans to Mars.
Makoto Suwa, 46, is a senior disaster risk management specialist at the World Bank.
He is the oldest candidate to be selected so far and holds a Ph.D. in climate science from Princeton University.
After working at the World Meteorological Organization, he entered the World Bank in 2014 where is serving as a senior disaster risk management specialist.
Suwa joined the press conference online from the United States and said: “As I’ll be making a major career shift, I strongly feel that I have to do my job to my best.”
Ayu Yoneda, 28, is a Japanese Red Cross Medical Center surgeon.
She graduated from the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Medicine in 2019 and then joined the university’s hospital; In 2021 she started working at the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center.
She will be the youngest among the nation’s active astronauts and the third Japanese woman in space after Chiaki Mukai and Naoko Yamazaki (both retired).
At the press conference, Yoneda said: “I was happy and surprised at the same time. I felt a sense of responsibility about being selected.”
A selection truly open to everyone
In the past, applicants were required to have at least a university degree in the natural sciences and at least three years of practical experience.
For the latest recruitment, the space agency has eliminated the requirement of a scientific academic background to accept applications from a wider range of people, including people with humanities and art degrees.
JAXA also lowered the minimum height of applicants from 158 centimeters to 149.5 centimeters as part of efforts to attract more applications from women.
The active Japanese astronauts
JAXA has six active astronauts, all men, who have experienced long-term stays at the International Space Station (ISS): Koichi Wakata, Satoshi Furukawa, Akihiko Hoshide, Kimiya Yui, Takuya Onishi, and Norishige Kanai.
Koichi Wakata is currently on the ISS for a six-month mission with SpaceX Crew-5.
Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa, according to JAXA’s website, is scheduled to return to space between 2023 and 2024 with SpaceX Crew-7.