This week, we’ll talk about the birth of the Japanese space program. From its origins as the brainchild of a former weapons designer and a borderline pyromaniac, the programs now incorporated into JAXA (the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) have accomplished some of the most amazing technical feats of the 20th and 21st century. How did they do it, and why? And what’s changing now with the rise of China?
Listen to the episode
Asia’s Space Race
Pekkanen, Saadia, and Paul Kalendar-Umezu,
In Defense of Japan: From the Market to the Military in Space Policy.
JAXA’s own archivists on
Itokawa Hideo and the pencil rocket.
Itokawa Hideo, the former weapons engineer turned father of the space program. Behind him is a model of the Baby Rocket, his second successful design.
Itokawa running the countdown clock for his first rocket launch, August 1955.
Itokawa Hideo occasionally engaged in self sabotage by way of excessive self promotion, as in this interview where he suggested that a rocket-boosted plane could make it across the Pacific Ocean in 20 minutes.
The successful launch of the Pencil Rocket.
A JAXA mockup of Hayabusa 2, which launched in 2014. The Hayabusa series, named in honor of Itokawa Hideo’s fighter design from 1943, performs sample return missions from extraterrestrial bodies.
IKAROS (the Inter-Planetary Kite Craft Accelerated by the Radiation of the Sun), the first successful craft to be powered by a solar sail.
A JAXA concept for Akatsuki, its Venus probe. Akatsuki went off course in 2010 but has been redirected and is now only a few weeks out from beginning its mission around Venus.