Experience the wonder of Japan’s national space program not far from Camp Zama
Stars and Stripes June 2, 2022
Motion sickness prevented me from achieving my childhood dream of becoming the world’s first astronaut-ballerina-veterinarian.
However, I rediscovered my passion for the stars after watching the 2012 anime “Space Brothers.” This heartwarming film follows two siblings as they fulfill their childhood dream of becoming astronauts for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA.
JAXA’s Sagamihara Campus is less than a half-hour's drive from Camp Zama’s main gate, and you can experience the wonders of Japan's space program – and score some cool souvenirs – for free.
When my family arrived at the facility by car, security guards at the entrance seemed surprised to have visitors. At first, assuming we were researchers, they asked for our ID. Once we were able to communicate that we were only there to visit, they led us to a small parking lot on the right.
A JAXA employee appeared to walk us into the exhibit area. She spoke English fluently and answered all of our questions about the facilities. We were given hand sanitizer and had our temperatures taken. Then we each had to sign a visitor log.
After the formalities, we were given fabric visitors stickers to wear featuring a cute, anthropomorphic spacecraft. Another JAXA employee gave us a file folder with a photograph of the light trail of the asteroid explorer Hayabusa2, as it entered Earth’s atmosphere on December 6, 2020, in Australia.
My favorite freebie, however, was a postcard with a photograph from the Nov. 4, 2021, launch of the sounding rocket SS-520-3 from the Norwegian Rocket Experiment Station. The photo has a pearlescent finish that highlights the paleness of the blue sky, the icy landscape, and the white hot streak of the rocket as it tears through the air.
The exhibit had several full-sized models of various rockets and spacecraft produced by JAXA, such as a reusable rocket, the RVT-9, and a model of the asteroid 162173 Ryugu, along with descriptions in both Japanese and English. Given that there was a lot of information to read through, my 7- and 1-year-old daughters were mainly interested in looking at the many models on display.
Certainly the highlight of the exhibit was the model of the asteroid explorer Hayabusa2, which collected samples from the asteroid Ryugu in November 2019 and returned them in December 2020 (as featured in our complimentary file folders).
The Hyabusa2 is still in space and on track to reach its final destination, the asteroid 1998 KY-6, by July 2031. There were computer screens displayed showing the real-time location and data of the spacecraft in space.
Outside of the exhibit building are two full-size models of launch systems used by JAXA. My family had a great time posing for photos in front of the large rockets.
After visiting the Sagamihara campus, we had a greater appreciation for the research done by JAXA and can’t wait to visit the JAXA Space Center in Tsukuba next.
ON THE QT
Location: 3-1-1 Yoshinodai, Chuo-ku, Sagamihara, Kanagawa 252-5210
Directions: About 20 minutes by car from Camp Zama’s main gate.
Costs: No admission fee, and parking is free.
Times: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. The gift shop is open weekdays only from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Food: The cafeteria has been closed during the coronavirus pandemic, but there are vending machines around the campus.
Information: Phone: 42-751-3911; Online: tinyurl.com/32xthr53
Although the website lists the exhibit as closed, that information appears to be outdated. Private tours are also available with a reservation.