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Japan: Ibaraki Prefecture, Tsukuba (Tsukuba Space Center)

If you grew up in the U.S., you are probably very familiar with NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration) established in 1958, which oversees the civilian space program. But have you ever been curious about the Japanese counterpart of NASA, known as JAXA (the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)?

JAXA was formed on October 1, 2003 through the merger of three previously independent organizations. It owns and runs about a dozen space, research and testing centers across Japan with the Tsukuba Space Center (TKSC) serving as the operations facility and headquarters. Located in Tsukuba Science City in Ibaraki Prefecture, the facility opened in 1972 and serves as the primary location for Japan’s space operations and research programs. Japanese astronauts involved in the International Space Station are trained in here in addition to the training they receive at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The 530,000 square-meter facility is surrounded by nature and houses state-of-the-art equipment and testing facilities. The TKSC offers both self-guided and guided tours of the facility. Given that the guided tours are free to the public and offer a much greater understanding of the work that goes on here, why not opt for the guided tour instead? Tours are offered in English but need to be scheduled in advance as they are less frequent than tours offered in Japanese.

The tour begins with a rocket launch simulation, which allows visitors to hear what a launch sounds like from various distances. From there you can access the Space Dome Exhibition Hall, which offers insight into the current status of JAXA’s space development programs. There are various interactive displays in the Space Dome but do pay attention to the signs as not everything is interactive. For your convenience each display is accompanied by a detailed English description.

Do make a point of visiting the Planet Cube Lounge, which runs various events and exhibitions and don’t forget to stop off at the Space Shop where assorted space related items including freeze dried foods are available for sale. Outside in Rocket Square, you will find a genuine 50 meter long H-II Launch Vehicle which makes an interesting backdrop for your photos.

The facility draws visitors of all ages and backgrounds all sharing one thing in common, a childish enthusiasm for the mysteries of space!

Admission is free and passports are required during the weekdays but not on the weekends. The tour will not require an entire day so combine your visit with other things to do and enjoy around Tsukuba.

 

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Tsukuba Space Center web page: http://global.jaxa.jp/about/centers/tksc/files/traffic_e.pdf

Open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily
Closed Every Monday (excluding national holidays and vacation seasons), special event day, Year-end and New Year holidays (from Dec.29 to Jan.3), and facility maintenance day (irregular).

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