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A SpaceX ship carrying Japan’s Soichi Noguchi and three American astronauts returned to Earth on Sunday following the group’s six-month mission at the International Space Station.

For about a week until shortly before the rare nighttime splashdown, two Japanese astronauts had been in space simultaneously for the first time since 2010. The SpaceX Crew-2 Dragon ship carried another four astronauts, including Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide, to the ISS last Saturday to take over from Noguchi et al.

Fancy yourself as a future Noguchi? Japan’s space agency is dropping its requirement that potential astronauts have a science major as it launches its first recruitment drive in 13 years.

Nasa astronauts make first night landing in 53 years in SpaceX capsule | BBC NEWS
Nasa astronauts make first night landing in 53 years in SpaceX capsule | BBC NEWS

Conversely, billionaire Yusaku Maezawa recently threw open his invitation to join a private lunar expedition to everyone, having previously said he was only looking for artists.

Activities in outer space are spreading at an unprecedented speed, notes commentator Sadamasa Oue. Can Japan keep up in the 21st-century space race?

Crucial to answering that question will be the fate of Japan’s next-generation H3 rocket, which is in preparation for its first launch. Relying chiefly on car parts has kept the new H3 cheap, reports the Chunichi Shimbun, but the competition from low-cost rivals such as SpaceX is fierce.

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