The Best of Times, the Worst of Times (Japan)

This should be the best of times in space for Japan. The first section of the nation’s Kibo module was successfully attached to the International Space Station last week. Videos of a smiling Takao Doi floating weightless in the new module were beamed down to a proud nation.

However, Japan finds itself at a bit of a crossroads. In an article titled Space development proves financial black hole, Yomiuri Shimbun staff writer Keiko Chino explores efforts by Japanese policymakers to chart a course for the country amid widespread discontent with falling government space spending and skepticism over its 1 trillion yen, 20-year investment in the space station.

The Liberal Democratic Party launched a full-scale review of space policy in February. Last year, the party submitted a bill calling for “the establishment of a space development strategy headquarters, to be chaired by the prime minister, to allow the country to conduct research aimed at industrial and security purposes,” Chino reports.

The Democratic Party of Japan is conducting its own space policy study, which it expects to release soon. The DPJ wants to encourage more companies to enter the space field and break a pattern of funneling money to only a handful of large corporations.

Chino reports that Japanese companies have been cutting back on their space activities in recent years, in part due to declining government budgets. And despite the success on ISS last week, the space station is widely ridiculed as being an expensive black hole that has produced little of value while being the subject of numerous delays and cost overruns.