Last week, I had the unique opportunity to celebrate the successful berthing of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule with the ISS, while visiting one of NASA’s closest partners in space exploration, Japan. I want to join NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden in congratulating the joint SpaceX/NASA team for flawlessly executing the first commercial company launch and docking to the International Space Station. This truly marks the start of a new era in spaceflight that advances America’s leadership while creating good jobs for American workers. I can tell you that our Japanese partners were almost as excited by this achievement as we all were.
I had originally planned to visit Tokyo in April of the last year, but the tragic events surrounding the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that occurred in March 2011 required me to postpone my trip. Throughout my visit to Japan I was heartened to hear inspiring stories of recovery and to see firsthand the spirit of the Japanese people who are continuing their recovery efforts.
The highlight of my trip was strategic discussions with senior officials from the Japanese government including JAXA President Tachikawa, my counterpart and host JAXA Vice President Higuchi and other senior JAXA officials as I conducted visits to three JAXA research centers in the Tokyo area. NASA has active cooperation with Japan in almost all areas of our activities and more than 40 cooperative agreements.
During my visit I also had meetings with Motohisa Furukawa, the Minister for Space Policy, and Tenzo Okumura, the Vice Minister for the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), both of whom are members of the ruling party in the Diet. The Ministers each expressed appreciation for the support NASA provided following the earthquake last year and noted that the cooperation between NASA and JAXA in space is vital to Japan. In addition to visiting JAXA Tsukuba Space Center, I went to the JAXA Sagamihara Campus, which houses space science, exploration and education activities, and JAXA Chofu Aerospace Center, which is responsible for aeronautics research. It was clear from all my interactions that the Japanese are eager to play a role in future exploration activities.
My significant interactions with government and JAXA officials were the primary purpose for my visit, but I also met with industry representatives from the U.S. (at the American Chamber of Commerce) and Japan (at the Society of Japanese Aerospace Companies) and participated in a press conference. The visit was very successful. It emphasized NASA’s high-level support for the NASA-JAXA relationship, included strategic discussions on potential future cooperative activities, and gave me the opportunity to learn more about one of America’s closest allies in space.