The Japanese and U.S. space agencies have agreed to step up collaboration on advancing human activities on the moon as a way of realizing the eventual exploration of Mars.

Hiroshi Yamakawa, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and James Bridenstine, administrator of NASA, reached the agreement at a recent meeting in Tokyo.

JAXA will extend technical cooperation for NASA's Gateway project to build a lunar orbiting space station and for its Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon by 2024, according to a joint statement signed by Yamakawa and Bridenstine.

Bridenstine welcomed JAXA's proposal to extend habitation and logistics missions with the use of Japan's HTV-X spacecraft and H3 launch vehicles for the Gateway project.

The two men also welcomed the planned launch of two JAXA-provided miniature satellites for an Artemis mission, and discussed NASA's potential participation in a lunar polar exploration mission planned by JAXA and the Indian Space Research Organization.

"These cooperative activities will contribute to their respective lunar science and exploration priorities, and both leaders acknowledged that the acquired data from these missions will contribute to NASA's plan to return humans to the Moon in 2024," the statement said.

The last humans to walk on the moon were American astronauts from the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.