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An artist's conception of what the Planet-B spacecraft looks like while orbiting Mars.
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Courtesy of NASA

Japanese Space Program Takes Off...
News story originally written on July 13, 1998

After a long, slow struggle, the Japanese space program is taking off! Japan's space program started as University researchers launching pencil-sized rockets in the 1950's. They struggled and fought against low budgets, some unsuccessful launches, and a bureaucratic split between the two Japanese space agencies, to finally build a rocket capable of putting probes into deep space. Just last week, Japan's struggle came to an end.

On July 4, 1998, the Planet-B probe was launched sucessfully by the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS). Planet-B is on its way to Mars to study the upper Martian atmosphere and ionosphere, and its interaction with the solar wind. The probe carries 14 instruments from Japan, Canada, Sweden, Germany and the United States, but the spacecraft was built, launched and will be controlled solely by Japan. Barring any unforeseen mishaps, Planet-B will reach Mars in October making Japan the third country (along with Russia and the U.S.) to reach another planet.

This successful launch has paved the way for future Japanese missions. In the next years, they are hoping to send a mission to the Moon, to an asteroid, and to Mercury. Japan is the only Asian country participating in the International Space Station.

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