Kibo: Our Shared Destiny Will Be Written by Us, Not for Us

This week, I embarked on a visit to Japan for discussions with a variety of senior Japanese government officials about our mutual interest in space exploration.  I will also visit NASA’s outstanding partners at JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

With more than 30 active agreements in place, NASA and JAXA have one of the strongest, most comprehensive and longest lasting space bilateral relationships of any two nations in the world. One of the greatest illustrations of this partnership is the International Space Station (ISS), orbiting 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour (about 28,000 kph) with six astronauts on board as I write this!

NASA’s Journey to Mars is taking shape aboard the orbiting laboratory, where astronauts from different countries are working together to advance research and technology that will allow future astronauts to travel deeper into space, at the very same time we create jobs and improve our quality of life here on Earth.

Japan and the United States are working together aboard the Space Station with many other international partners – and we will be for the foreseeable future. Today, Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi and American astronauts Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins are living and working together with their Russian crewmates at the cutting edge of innovation, science and discovery.  Their research ‘Off the Earth, For the Earth’ promises to deepen understanding and expand human progress around such areas as medicine, biology, technology, Earth science, material production and communications – and that’s just the short list!

Because leaders in both the U.S. and Japan have chosen to extend our Space Station participation through at least 2024, the promise and potential progress that comes out of this research will continue for years to come.  In the more immediate future, the research benefitting all of humanity will be bolstered by cargo delivered to station aboard Japan’s upcoming HTV-6 mission (which, as was announced recently, is set to launch in October of this year).

As we consider the bright future of our partnership, I’m very much looking forward to joining our friends at JAXA this week for a ceremony to officially open a control room for Kibo, the Japanese Experiment Module on ISS.

Kibo is, appropriately, a Japanese word meaning “hope,” and I believe that “hope” is an excellent description of the research that’s being conducted aboard the International Space Station and the cooperation that goes into it.

President Obama once said that “hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.”

The International Space Station is the embodiment of this sort of hope and effort.  Consider this: more than 220 human beings from 18 countries have visited the International Space Station; tens of thousands of people have been involved in its construction and operation; and people from dozens of countries have had their research and experiments flown aboard it.

As we look forward to an exciting future exploring space, I am also enthusiastic about advances the U.S. is making in airspace travel a little closer to Earth.  We are in the midst of an incredible moment in the history of aeronautics. With President Obama proposing an historic investment in green aviation, we have an opportunity to make air travel cleaner, greener, safer and quieter – even as our skies grow more crowded and aircraft fly faster.

One of the more important areas of NASA aeronautics research is air traffic management.  Our country’s skies will have to absorb an estimated four billion more passengers over the next several decades and it’s essential that we do this without compromising the safety of our skies.

We in the United States are not the only country with an interest in building a more efficient air traffic management system.  International commerce depends on air transportation and it is imperative that we work together with partner countries around the world to maximize human resources and investment for the benefit of all humanity.

With this in mind, after my visit to Japan I plan to travel to China to discuss areas of mutual interest in aviation research between NASA and the Chinese Aeronautical Establishment (CAE).  This will be part of ongoing conversations that began in November of 2014 and have continued through a NASA-CAE workshop in Beijing that was held in August 2015.

Taken together, our partnerships around the world continue to instill optimism – and inspire hope – about the future of space exploration, aeronautics and our ability to write our own destiny – together.