Space exploration should go ahead despite the dangers shown by the Feb. 1 disintegration of the U.S. space shuttle Columbia and the loss of its seven-member crew, astronaut Mamoru Mohri said Wednesday.

“Since the shuttle incident, some people have said there is no need to take risks by going into space. But we know the risks and have the responsibility to tell our offspring the meaning of space development,” Mohri, 55, said at a news conference in Tokyo.

Mohri, Japan’s first official astronaut, who flew on the shuttle Endeavour in 1992, was flanked by six other veterans of space travel at the news conference to announce a world astronaut conference to be held in Tokyo in October.

Responding to a question about safety risks in operating and maintaining the International Space Station, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Avdeyev, 47, said the ISS can be operated by two people, rather than three as at present.

Toyohiro Akiyama, a journalist who in 1990 became the first Japanese to fly in space — staying aboard the Soviet Mir space station — stressed the need to ensure safety in space missions: “Although it’s true that space flights are risky, safety should still be given priority.”

The Association of Space Explorers, which consists of some 300 astronauts from 29 countries, will hold its Annual Planetary Congress in Tokyo with about 70 astronauts expected from abroad. Related events are scheduled in Iwate, Hiroshima, Kagoshima and other prefectures.

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