TOKYO: The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, said Tuesday it has picked Makoto Suwa, a 46-year-old male World Bank worker, and Ayu Yoneda, a 28-year-old female doctor at the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center, as astronaut candidates.
It was the first time for JAXA to choose astronaut candidates since it picked Kimiya Yui, 53, and others as astronaut candidates in 2009.
Suwa and Yoneda might become the first Japanese to land on the moon, under the NASA-led Artemis manned lunar exploration program. Japan has announced its participation in the program.
“I was happy and surprised at the same time,” Yoneda told a press conference in Tokyo. “I then felt a sense of responsibility about being selected as well as a sense of mission.”
Joining the press conference online from the United States, Suwa said, “As I’ll be making a major career shift, I strongly feel that I have to do my job to my best.”
Suwa, a Tokyo native, holds a Ph.D. in climate science from Princeton University.
After working at the World Meteorological Organization, he entered the World Bank in 2014. He currently serves as a senior disaster risk management specialist at the World Bank.
Suwa became the oldest Japanese to be picked as an astronaut candidate.
Born in Tokyo, Yoneda graduated from the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Medicine in 2019 and then joined the university’s hospital.
She started working at the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center in April 2021.
Yoneda will become the third female Japanese astronaut, following Chiaki Mukai and Naoko Yamazaki.
In 2021, JAXA started its sixth astronaut recruitment, drawing applications from a record 4,127 people.
The list of applicants was narrowed to eight men and two women by the end of 2022 through documentary examinations, interviews and other screenings.
The final round of screenings started in January this year.
In the past, applicants were required to have at least a university degree in the natural science field and at least three years of practical experience.
For the latest recruitment, the space agency scrapped the requirement on academic background to accept applications from a wider range of people, including those with humanities degrees.
JAXA also lowered the minimum height of applicants to 149.5 centimeters from 158 centimeters as part of efforts to attract more applications from women. At present, all six active astronauts of JAXA are men.
The proportion of women among all applicants came to about 22 pct, up from around 10 pct in past recruitments.
Suwa and Yoneda will join JAXA in April and will be certified as astronauts after taking part in training programs at home and abroad for about two years.