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Sailor Moon? More like sail to the Moon: Japan vows to set foot on lunar soil by 2030

All part of the wider plan to visit the dusty wasteland of Mars

Japan's national space agency JAXA has announced plans to send a lone astronaut to the moon by 2030.

It's a big step for Japan, since its astronauts have never set foot in space beyond the International Space Station. The proposal was presented this week during a panel with the country's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

More details are expected to be released later this year. The moon is seen as a progressive step in human space exploration, with the eventual goal being long-term missions to Mars.

The ISS orbits approximately 200 miles (320 kilometres) from Earth, and the Moon is over a thousand times further away at 238,900 miles (384,470 kilometres) from Earth. The average distance between Mars and Earth is about 140 million miles (225 million kilometres).

JAXA hopes to prepare for lunar orbit by joining NASA's 2025 quest to build a base that will orbit the moon. The Deep Space Gateway is the first phase of the mission to build a power bus, a space hub housing with full docking capabilities for incoming cargo, and a propulsion system.

It'll be a test for long-duration missions beyond the Moon. If all goes well, the second and third phases will involve the Deep Space Transport spacecraft. It'll be launched into orbit near the moon first, and after restocking with fuel and supplies, a few astronauts will be booted to Mars in the 2030s.

The Red Planet is an intense area for space exploration. NASA, the European Space Agency, Russia's Roscosmos, the China National Space Administration, and the Indian Space Research Organisation are all engaged in developing rovers and space probes to study the Martian world.

Scientists believe that Mars may have had a watery past filled with lakes containing liquid water – a vital ingredient for life. Others, like Elon Musk, believe it may still be habitable. Musk's grand plan for his SpaceX company is to eventually colonize Mars within 50 to 100 years. ®

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