Film director Takeshi Kitano thanked Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners during an interview. "You've brought my major league heroes down to earth for me," Kitano told the Seattle outfielder. "To put it another way, it's like there was this terrific luxury car I could only admire from afar before, but now I'm allowed to ride in the backseat."
What Ichiro has done isn't unlike what Japanese astronauts have done. They all ventured into "outer space" and experienced what they could only have "looked at from afar" before.
"The ceiling became a wall," recalled astronaut Mamoru Mori. Naoko Yamazaki noted: "Our planet is beautiful. When we leave it to our descendants, I want it to be even more beautiful." Their first-hand experiences are certainly valuable.
NASA's Space Shuttle program, in which seven Japanese astronauts were involved, is about to end. The final mission was launched on July 8 and watched by 750,000 people. There have been 135 Shuttle flights over the last 30 years. The inclusion of non-Americans on those missions brought outer space closer, so to speak, to people around the world. But the system of reusing winged orbiters proved too complex.
In chronological order, the operational shuttles were the Columbia, the Challenger, the Discovery, the Atlantis and the Endeavor. Among these "luxury cars," the names of Challenger and the Columbia bring back memories of tragic disasters that killed all their crew members.
Unlike the Apollo program, on which the U.S. government spared no expense during the space race with Soviet Union during the Cold War, the Space Shuttle program was constantly in fiscal straits. Accidents added to the cost, and the frequency of launches fell far short of the target of 50 a year.
The end of the Space Shuttle program cannot be unrelated to the recent decline of America as a superpower.
There are many problems on Earth, and this is obviously no time for any country to stake its national prestige on the conquest of outer space. But space development as a form of international cooperation ought to continue.
The human race needs to get into the habit of seeing, through the eyes of chosen space fliers, our blue planet with its continents that have no national borders.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 10
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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