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Expectations for Japanese Space Missions Charles Elachi Director, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a world leader in the field of space exploration, having launched a number of probes and artificial satellites. Dr. Elachi is an expert in imaging radar, and has participated in a wide variety of missions ranging from space exploration, to Earth observation, to archeological expeditions. With this experience, he is actively involved in a number of academies and strategic planning committees. He has a close connection to the Japanese space program as a member of an external evaluation committee for JAXA's space exploration missions.

Dr. Charles Elachi
Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Vice President of the California Institute of Technology.
Dr. Elachi received a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Grenoble, France, and a Diplome Ingenieur in engineering from the Polytechnic Institute, Grenoble, both in 1968. He received a doctorate in 1971 in electrical sciences from the California Institute of Technology. He also has a master's degree in geology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and an MBA from the University of Southern California.
Dr. Elachi joined JPL in 1970, and became JPL's Director for Space and Earth Science Programs in 1982. He has been a principal investigator on a number of research and development studies, including the Shuttle Imaging Radar series, the Magellan imaging radar at Venus, and the Cassini Titan radar. He was appointed to his current position in 2001.
He is a professor of electrical engineering and planetary science at Caltech, a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the International Academy of Astronautics.
Dr. Elachi played a leading role in developing the field of space borne imaging radar, and his on board systems have been broadly applied, not only in space exploration but also in Earth observation and disaster monitoring.
He has chaired a number of strategic planning committees for NASA. He has lectured in more than 20 countries about space exploration and Earth observation. He participated in a number of archeological expeditions in Egypt, Oman and China. In 1989, asteroid 1982 SU was renamed 4116 Elachi in recognition of his contribution to planetary exploration.
Dr. Elachi's numerous awards have included the Royal Society of London's Massey Award (2006), the Takeda Award (2002), the Wernher von Braun Award (2002), the Dryden Award (2000), the Committee on Space Research's Nordberg Medal (1996), a number of NASA Medals, and awards from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Japan's Role in Space Exploration
Q. You are a member of the ISAS (Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, JAXA) External Evaluation Committee. What was your impression of last year's session? Which space mission left the deepest impression on you?

I was very, very impressed with the efforts that are going on at ISAS. Our committee reviewed the different programs and approaches, and I was particularly impressed, not necessarily with a specific mission, but with the broad spectrum of activities at ISAS - planetary, astrophysics and space physics - and the close connection between the scientists, the engineers and the students who are working with them. It kind of reminded me a little bit of the early times of JPL. It's smaller than JPL, but they are taking some of the first steps in exploration.

Q. How do you think JAXA is perceived by the international committee?

Lunar Explorer KAGUYA
Lunar Explorer KAGUYA

One of JAXA's recent missions was the rendezvous and landing on an asteroid by Hayabusa. That was a major challenge. I mean, even here in the U.S. such a mission would be a major challenge. I think the involvement of ISAS both in studying asteroids and in conducting the KAGUYA (SELENE) mission to the moon, which is now in orbit, really shows the leadership that Japan is taking in planetary exploration.
JAXA has had a number of programs that involved international activity, not only in planetary exploration but also in Earth science. So we at JPL have participated many times in Earth observation missions for which Japan had developed the spacecraft. And we've also had a number of scientists from Japan involved in our missions here.
These international exchanges, where either scientists or instruments from the U.S. fly on Japanese spacecraft or vice versa, build a strong scientific and human relationship between countries. That's very important in science and space exploration, and you have been very proactive in doing that.

Q. What kind of role do you think Japan should play in international space development?

I think Japan can play a broader role. Japan has a strong capability in science, and space science, and engineering. One of our committee's recommendations was that JAXA should expand its international collaboration in Southeast Asia, and also worldwide. In addition to NASA and the European Space Agency, Japan is other major player in space exploration. And Japan could be a leader in the whole exploration program.

Q. Do you have any particular missions in mind on which you would like to collaborate with Japan in the future?

Asteroid Explorer Hayabusa
Asteroid Explorer Hayabusa
Looking at the future, I would say one of the areas where Japan has built capabilities is rendezvousing and bringing samples from small bodies, such as asteroids. So that could be an exciting potential collaboration in the future - doing more extensive studies of asteroids and comets, rendezvousing with them and bringing samples from a variety of asteroids and comets, so we can see the diversity across the solar system. And clearly, the other area of cooperation would be in the Earth sciences, where we are all sharing the concern over global change. It's going to require all the leading nations in space to develop a network to observe the changes that are happening on our planet, so the public policy people can decide how to address all these issues.

Q. What advice would you give to JAXA regarding future activity and goals?

I recommended two things. One is to expand international collaboration. I think international cooperation is very important, and almost every mission we have at JPL has an international element. We have a number of Japanese scientists involved in our missions, and we have been involved in Japanese missions. We all agree that space exploration is for all humankind, because when you look from space at the Earth you don't see any boundaries. There is some international collaboration now at JAXA, but I think it ought to be expanded. For instance you could have scientists from other countries work at JAXA for a year or two - what we call a research fellows program.
The other advice is to increase your tolerance for taking risks. In space exploration, particularly planetary exploration, there is always a high risk, because many of these missions we're doing the first time. So there needs to be a good tolerance for risk. In any type of exploration, in Antarctica, or when people explored the oceans 300 years ago, there was always high risk. And there were always setbacks and failures, but people never gave up. People in general, but particularly big organizations tend to shy away from risk. And if you are always afraid of problems and failure, you will not be a leader. So one of my recommendations is that we should try to avoid problems but expect that setbacks will happen. The important thing is to learn from our failures and keep pushing the frontier. We at JPL encountered that many times through our history. We had successes and we had failures. But we always learn from our failures, so we can push the frontier to the next step.

Mars Explorer Mars Express (Courtesy of ESA)
Mars Explorer Mars Express (Courtesy of ESA)

Q. Are there any space missions conducted by space agencies other than NASA and JAXA that have attracted your attention?

Let me give you two examples. One is the European Space Agency (ESA) becoming an even bigger player in space exploration. Now ESA has a spacecraft orbiting Mars, called Mars Express, another orbiting Venus, called Venus Express, and there is also mission heading toward a comet. It's called Rosetta, and its mission is to rendezvous with a comet. So that shows that ESA is now playing a major role in that area.
We have also collaborated with CNES, the French space agency, on a number of programs to study the Earth's oceans from space. That's becoming a major benefit to both Japan and the U.S., to monitor what's called El Niño, which is a change in climate resulting from heat change in the ocean. And that's based on measurements done by a joint French-American satellite.

Q. In Asia, China was successful with human space flight. What are your views on China's space program?

I think everybody needs to participate in space exploration. In my mind, the key thing always ought to be collaboration. When it's for peaceful purposes, planetary exploration and Earth observation are the responsibility of all humankind. The U.S. has always welcomed international civilian collaboration. And I hope in the future there will be more collaboration with China. At the present time, that collaboration is very limited. But I'm hopeful that in the future it could be expanded.
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