January 7 – Japan's Sakigake Launched into Interplanetary Space!

Posted on January 7, 2017

During the Space Race, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. felt the pinch of competition as they strove to safely boost astronauts (cosmonauts) into orbit around the Earth, as they strove to fly spacecraft to various planets and moons, as they strove to accomplish manned and unmanned space exploration goals.

On this date in 1985, Japan became the first nation other than the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. to launch a deep space probe.

The Japanese space organizations (which in 2003 merged to form the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA) developed Sakigake to demonstrate and test their launch vehicle and engineering accomplishments, and to do several sorts of scientific observations / measurements:

  • Sakigake was built to detect plasma, a state of matter resulting from heating gas to stellar temperatures, or from exposing gas to a strong electromagnetic field. Plasma is the most common form of ordinary matter (not dark matter) in the universe.
  • Sakigake was also built to detect magnetic fields in interplanetary space.
  • Sakigake carried out a fly-by of Halley's Comet about a year after it was launched.

If you can believe it, at least 70 nations now have space programs! Of course, most of these nations do not have space programs capable of human spaceflight (only three do -- check bottom of this post for their names), and only 13 nations (or groups of nations) have built rockets capable of reaching orbit (again, check the bottom for the names of the countries with launch capability). 

JAXA rockets launch from the Tanegashima Space Center.
When you consider how important satellites are, now, for GPS, cell phones, television and radio, weather prediction, scientific and military observation and research -- well, you can see why many nations would want to have space programs so that they can create their own satellites.

JAXA is one of the world's six most capable and wide-ranging space agencies. In addition to launch and recovery of satellites, JAXA has launched lunar and interplanetary missions; has studied solar sails and infrared, X-ray, and radio astronomy; has an Earth-observation program that includes rainfall observation and monitoring of carbon dioxide; and has worked on supersonic aircraft and reusable launch vehicles. 

Naoko Yamazaki
Japan has ten astronauts who work with other nations' space agencies and the International Space Station. Plans for manned expeditions to the Moon and to Mars have been started and shelved, but JAXA may very well be an important partner in future human exploration!

Russia, the United States, and China
Russia, the United States, China, Iran, Israel, Italy, North Korea, South Korea, India, Japan, France, Ukraine, and the European Space Agency

Also on this date:

Tempura Day

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