Japan Becomes More Assertive as ISS Role, Expectations Grow

With the first part of its Kibo module delivered to the International Space Station, Japanese space officials are becoming more assertive as they face growing expectations to make good on their 20-year-old commitment to the orbiting laboratory, the Yomiuri Shimbun reports.

“Though Japan is the last of the participating nations to have a facility attached to the ISS, the country is now a full-fledged member of the spacefaring community, and no longer needs to feel shy about pushing its own agenda vis-a-vis the United States, Russia, the European Union and other member nations,” staff writers Koichi Yasuda and Makoto Mitsui report.

They have an interesting account of a disagreement that occurred between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) as Takao Doi and his colleagues were connecting the module to ISS during the recent Endeavour flight.

JAXA wanted astronauts to install insulation covers on the exterior of the module; however, NASA believed that repairing the space station’s solar panels was a higher priority. JAXA officials relented after tests showed the module would be fine without the covers for a short period of time; astronauts attached the panels near the end of the shuttle’s 12-day stay.

“The task for Tokyo is to fulfill its responsibility of jointly managing the space station community, while insisting on its own rights to the ISS. The compromise over the heat shields was made in this spirit,” Yasuda and Mitsui write.

The next big challenge will be to attach the main section of Kibo to the station in late May. Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will lead the effort as a crew member on a space shuttle flight scheduled for liftoff on May 26.